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Signs Of Traction In U.S. Fight Against Afghan Taliban
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Signs Of Traction In U.S. Fight Against Afghan Taliban

Afghanistan

Signs Of Traction In U.S. Fight Against Afghan Taliban
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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

With autumn settling in, it's the end of another season in Afghanistan, the fighting season.

American officials cautioned that it's too early to measure the effect of 32,000 extra U.S. troops that arrived over the summer. Many Afghans complained that they feel less secure than ever. But in recent days, voices from Kabul have started to push the message that Afghan and coalition forces are reversing the Taliban's momentum.

Here's NPR's Quil Lawrence to help reconcile these two perspectives.

QUIL LAWRENCE: The governor of Kandahar did something yesterday that was unthinkable a few weeks ago. He took the road west out of town and held a meeting in Zhari district without getting blown up.

It's the first time in six years that Afghan officials dared to try driving that road.

Mr. ZALMAY AYUBI (Spokesman for Governor of Tooryalai Wesa): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: The road is 100 percent safe, says the governor's spokesman, Zalmay Ayubi. And he adds, we're clearing insurgents out of the rest of the area.

The much-publicized trip follows a recent spate of press statements by unnamed sources in Kabul and Washington suggesting that U.S. forces have killed and captured so many Taliban fighters that the insurgents may be suing for peace.

Taliban official spokesmen deny it.

As for the success in Kandahar's Arghandab and Zhari districts, that's also difficult to verify, since most all of the journalists scheduled to embed there had their embeds cancelled early this month.

NPR's David Gilkey embedded with the U.S. Army in Arghandab last month, and he described a relentless toll taken by IEDs, improvised explosive devices.

DAVID GILKEY: You, literally, step, step for step, where the soldier in front of you has stepped. It's a stress that just weighs them down, knowing that they're walking around and their next step could, you know, kill them, kill their buddy or take both their legs off. It's terrifying.

LAWRENCE: This summer's fighting season was the deadliest on record for U.S. and Afghan forces. That was expected, says Colonel Andy Pullan, at the headquarters of ISAF, the International Security and Assistance Force, in Afghanistan.

Colonel ANDY PULLAN (International Security and Assistance Force, Afghanistan): You could draw the conclusion that things are getting worse. I would draw the conclusion that, actually, we've now got the ability to get on with the business at hand. Take the initiative from the enemy, and the enemy is inevitably going to fight back.

LAWRENCE: Pullan says that if the plan works, sometime in the future, the wave of violence will crest.

But some observers see the uptick in violence as a bad sign, especially because the bombs and assassinations have flared in areas of the north where the Taliban never held sway in the past, in places where there is little international presence.

The eastern border with Pakistan also saw heavy fighting this summer, says Lieutenant Colonel Joel Vowell of the 101st Airborne Division in the Afghan province of Kunar.

Lieutenant Colonel JOEL VOWELL (101st Airborne Division): It is their surge, their surge to counter the ISAF, NATO surge. We saw that in Kunar, between 200 to 300 percent increase in attacks this year compared to last year. They're here, and they need to fight here because lastly ISAF forces are focused elsewhere. What better place to open up a second front?

LAWRENCE: As with the south, Vowell says U.S. forces in the east have killed hundreds of suspected insurgents during this fighting season, and his goal is now to help Afghan civilian authorities push into areas cleared by the fighting.

American officials say that after nearly nine years, they finally have enough troops and the right strategy to fight effectively in Afghanistan. The question is how long the effort will last, says Manan Farahi, an adviser to Afghanistan's Interior Ministry.

Mr. MANAN FARAHI (Adviser, Afghanistan's Interior Ministry): In my opinion, the timeline for the war - especially to defeat the terrorist network in Afghanistan or in the region - we couldn't defeat them in one day or two days or 10 days. It takes time. It's war.

LAWRENCE: Farahi says Afghanistan needs an international effort to fight what he says is a regional war, but time is the key. He is aware that President Barack Obama is going to reassess policy toward Afghanistan in less than two months and has announced his intention to start bringing home some troops in nine months.

It will also take time to measure just how much the American troop surge has won this fighting season. After the winter's lull, U.S. soldiers look to see how strong the Taliban are when they return to fight in the spring.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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