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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Let's note a troubling detail of the killing of 10 aid workers in Afghanistan over the weekend. It's the location on the map. They were killed in northeast Afghanistan in a region that was previously considered, relatively speaking, safe.

Some of the newly arrived U.S. troops are being sent to the north of Afghanistan, to areas that previously had little or no Taliban influence. NPR's Quil Lawrence recently traveled with U.S. troops in the north and sent us this report.

QUIL LAWRENCE: The province of Kunduz, in northeast Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan, isn't supposed to be Taliban territory. But at a police checkpoint in the Ali Abad district in southern Kunduz, a winding river separates the insurgents from government forces. Zukrullah, a 3rd lieutenant in the Afghan national police, says he's sure they're watching.

Lieutenant ZUKRULLAH (Afghan national police): (Through translator): Actually, the enemy is back that side area, where they are 50 person, and we are like five people.

LAWRENCE: Those aren't very good odds, but Zukrullah has some back up at the moment, in the form of a few dozen U.S. infantrymen, who have stopped by to visit his lonesome outpost near the village of Puli Kheshti. Zukrullah says the Americans have been teaching the police useful tactics. He just wishes there were more police here to fight off the Taliban.�

(Soundbite of footsteps)

LAWRENCE: The Americans are walking a foot patrol in the village for the first time, but they're planning to make it a habit. A few kilometers up the road they've set up a field headquarters where they'll spend most nights, sleeping and eating alongside the Afghan police station.

They get better information working alongside Afghans, and it allows for better training of Afghan police, who are supposed to take over security so the US can leave.�

But all that wasn't even supposed to be needed up here in the north, especially because ethnic Pashtuns, the traditional supporters of the Taliban, are in the minority.

Ms. KATE CLARK (Researcher, Afghan Analysts Network): As the Taliban have been getting stronger, they've managed to infiltrate both Pashtun communities and non-Pashtun communities in the north.

LAWRENCE: Kate Clark is a researcher with the Afghan Analysts Network in Kabul. She says German NATO forces in the north have made a weak showing over the past eight years. And government corruption and abuse has made the north fertile ground for the insurgents, says Clark.

Ms. CLARK: Afghan Nation Police were sent in, they robbed people. There were accusations that they'd been dealing, dishonorably, with local women - exactly the sort of things that will drive the insurgency.

LAWRENCE: The American troops who surged into the north this spring are aware that their Afghan partners were not always a boon. Six weeks ago, here in Ali Abad, the police chief was transferred out - unofficially for corruption. The new chief is much better, says platoon leader Mike Kehoe, a first lieutenant with the 187th infantry.

First Lieutenant MIKE KEHOE (187th infantry): We're down here embedding with them. I like to tell the ANP that they don't work for me, I more so, work for them. If the chief wants to do something we try within our best to do it.

LAWRENCE: Kehoe is confident that the counter-insurgency strategy is already working in Kunduz. He says when his men push out to villages, they're able to correct some popular misconceptions.

Lt. KEHOE: We came across some locals that came by early in the morning to feed their livestock. And they were visibly nervous and visually scared. They said, well, you're Americans. You're going to kill us all. That's what we were told. No, we're not going to kill you. We're here to help you guys.

LAWRENCE: Kehoe says it's encounters like those that change minds about Americans as well as the Afghan government. But he admits that Kunduz is just now getting the attention it should have had eight years ago in order to prevent the Taliban from taking hold in the first place.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Lt. KEHOE: A lot of the Afghan people see our (unintelligible) and our weapons and think that we're just here to fight, and that's not the case. We're here to help the people of Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: Lieutenant Kehoe sits down for his first meeting with a village elder in Puli Kheshti, offering to use U.S. military funds to build new wells for the village - also a counter-insurgency strategy, using money as soft power to win over the population.�

(Soundbite of footsteps)

LAWRENCE: The elder seems skeptical, but walks with Kehoe to show him where the well should be dug. It's a first step, but it remains to be seen if it comes in time to turn back the Taliban in the north.

Quil Lawrence, NPR news.

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