Here's one of these 68,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, Captain John Wei Sun(ph), commanding officer of the 2/8 Marines, Fox Company.

C: Hell, I don't want to see my effort wasted. I want to make sure that the Marines - whatever sweat, blood and tears put into this place is going to bear fruit.

SIEGEL: As determined as Captain Sun is, so is the enemy he's fighting, which brings us to our next question: Who is the enemy in Afghanistan?

Here's NPR's Tom Gjelten.

TOM GJELTEN: There was a time, during other wars, when U.S. commanders tended to oversimplify the fight: it was the U.S. versus the Communists, or us versus the terrorists. No one can say General Stanley McChrystal oversimplifies the enemy in Afghanistan. In London last month, he described, in his words, a uniquely complex environment.

SIEGEL: Three regional and resilient insurgencies - we don't just have one in Afghanistan, we've got at least three. And then there were other sub-insurgencies.

GJELTEN: These three insurgencies are sometimes lumped together as the Taliban, but McChrystal separates them. First, the original Taliban who ruled Afghanistan until they were kicked out in 2001. They still have the same leader they had then: a mysterious figure known as Mullah Omar, now based in or around the city of Quetta in Pakistan. But Mullah Omar's movement may not be the most lethal in Afghanistan. Take last week's deadly attack on a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul where five U.N. workers were killed: The Afghan intelligence minister, Amrullah Saleh, blamed it on the Taliban, but then he got more specific.

GJELTEN: And within Taliban, we also have more evidence to suggest the Haqqani section of the Taliban.

GJELTEN: The Haqqani section, that's the second insurgent group. It's led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who came to fame fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. He joined forces at that time with Arab volunteer fighters, including Osama bin Laden. His may be the most brutal wing of the Afghan insurgency. The third group is led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another warlord and former anti-Soviet commander. All three are Afghan movements - fighting to drive U.S. and other foreign troops out of Afghanistan. And critics of the U.S. war effort say that to the extent these groups focus only on Afghanistan, they don't threaten the United States.

But Tom Johnson of the Naval Postgraduate School says all three are jihad movements, determined to establish an Islamic state.

GJELTEN: My research in the south of Afghanistan and Kandahar over the last two years suggested that even the foot soldiers now are ideologues.

GJELTEN: In fact, war supporters say the Afghan insurgencies have all evolved in recent years, becoming more dangerous. For one thing, they're now working with militant jihadi groups in neighboring countries with similar agendas. So they're now part of a regional Islamist movement - this in an unstable part of the world where there are nuclear weapons. Plus, all three of the Afghan groups have ties to al-Qaida, according to U.S. officials. The relationship has changed, there may be no more than 100 al-Qaida members fighting alongside the Taliban. But intelligence officials say al-Qaida is providing crucial guidance on such matters as fundraising and propaganda operations, a complex war environment indeed, and challenging adversaries for the Afghan government and its foreign allies.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.