U.S. Officials Consider Arming Afghan Militias
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Afghanistan. It's his third visit to the country this year. 2007 has been the most violent year in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban.
NPR's defense correspondent Guy Raz reports from Kabul that both the Pentagon and NATO say they have grounds for optimism.
GUY RAZ: There are competing narratives of how the year 2007 played out in Afghanistan. Let's start with the facts: The most suicide bombs since the U.S. invasion; the greatest poppy yield in a decade; the highest level of attacks on NATO and Afghan forces since 2001. And proportional to the size of the force, Afghanistan now produces more U.S. casualties than Iraq.
But NATO - which is known as ISAF here - the Pentagon and even the Afghan government, they all believe the long-term trends are good.
For example, Afghan President Hamid Karzai believes al-Qaida is on the run.
HAMID KARZAI: I have no worries at all. The al-Qaida is on the run. It is defeated, is in hiding.
RAZ: And here's the top U.S. military commander here, General David Rodriguez.
DAVID RODRIGUEZ: We continue to make progress.
RAZ: And here's Secretary Gates.
ROBERT GATES: An important reason for the increased violence is because there is a much more aggressive effort on the part of ISAF to go after the Taliban and to go into areas where they have not been active before.
RAZ: Indeed, while all the general indicators show violence is way up, the Pentagon and NATO argue it's to do with a more aggressive campaign against al- Qaida and the Taliban which is what Secretary Gates ostensibly came to investigate. One of the ideas now floating around the Pentagon is to replicate a program started in Iraq by providing money and arms to Afghan tribal militias.
GATES: I think that there are some opportunities to look into there. But I think that it's not possible to directly equate what is going on in Iraq and what we might be able to do here in Afghanistan.
RAZ: Gates and his entourage flew out to Khost province in southeastern Afghanistan. Khost is where Osama bin Laden used to run a training camp, a camp that was bombed by U.S. cruise missiles in 1998. Today, the U.S. military points to Khost as an example of where their counterinsurgency campaign has paid off.
MARTIN SCHWEITZER: We're taking Governor Jamal's model that...
RAZ: Army Colonel Martin Schweitzer pointed to a dramatic drop in insurgent activity in the province over the past few months. But still, the provincial governor warned Gates that the situation is fragile, that locals are becoming impatient with the absence of jobs and infrastructure.
Meanwhile, as official Washington begins to absorb the new National Intelligence Estimate on Iran's nuclear program, the rhetoric on Iran, at least from the Pentagon, is already changing. For the past year, the Pentagon has alleged Iran's been funding insurgents in Afghanistan. Now, some senior defense officials are denying there is clear evidence that Iran is involved.
And when asked whether Iran is helping to fuel Afghanistan's insurgency, General Rodriguez said...
RODRIGUEZ: It's not been militarily significant thus far.
Guy Raz, NPR News, Kabul.
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