Cutting Off Safe Havens Key To Afghan Fight U.S. troops have been conducting major combat operations in parts of Afghanistan's southeastern Kandahar province, and have managed to disrupt insurgent networks. But it's hard to know how many insurgents escape to Pakistan, lay low for a while and come back.
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Cutting Off Pakistani Safe Havens Key To Afghan Fight

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Cutting Off Pakistani Safe Havens Key To Afghan Fight

Cutting Off Pakistani Safe Havens Key To Afghan Fight

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

NATO leaders are working to settle their future this week. They're holding a summit on the war in Afghanistan. And as they consider the future, we're examining the situation now. Yesterday we heard from a villager in Northwest Afghanistan.

SHAZARADAD: (Through translator) The main problem in Afghanistan is the Pakistan. He says, unfortunately, (unintelligible) Pakistan help the Taliban and keep some places for the Taliban. They go to the Pakistan and come back from Pakistan.

INSKEEP: NPR's Rachel Martin paid a visit to a border checkpoint where U.S. and Afghan troops are trying to control the traffic.

RACHEL MARTIN: The border along the desert in southeastern Kandahar province is marked by a monument that looks like a colorful version of the Arc de Triomphe. It's called Friendship Gate, which considering the long-standing tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, seems more like wishful thinking than anything else.

JIM EDWARDS: Pakistan and Afghanistan don't agree exactly where this border is.

MARTIN: Colonel Jim Edwards is the U.S. commander in charge of NATO operations here. He walks me up to the makeshift border crossing, manned by Afghans and Pakistanis.

EDWARDS: Unidentified Man #1 (Foreign language spoken)

EDWARDS: Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: Colonel Edwards and his unit are trying to control what they can of that revolving door.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCKS)

MARTIN: Unidentified Man #6: (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: Lieutenant Scott Brown oversees this operation, something they call biometrics enrollment. He says once the information is collected, it's entered into a database.

SCOTT BROWN: Once a match is made at the database on the watch list, it'll pop up and tell us what level they are, which is a way to categorize how dangerous they are as a threat, and what action we should take.

MARTIN: Have you found anyone who shouldn't be crossing?

BROWN: We've found some people on the watch list and people who are later to be identified to be Taliban after we enrolled them. Their prints were matched to latent prints IEDs. So it's really more of a deterrent factor than is necessarily catching every Taliban that tries to cross the border.

MARTIN: Again, Colonel Edwards.

EDWARDS: The more success we have here, the more we drive people out further away from the legal border crossings.

MARTIN: The official crossing here is only one of two along the Afghan- Pakistani border; the other is north of here at Torkham Gate. So the local Afghan police commander, Saidullah Kahn, says cracking down here just means insurgents will cross somewhere else.

SAIDULLAH KAHN: (Through translator) The one point (unintelligible) look at the border, but the whole area is 1,600 miles, that all border means people are crossing without any checkpoints and without anything. They're just crossing back and forth.

MARTIN: Colonel Edwards says when U.S. and Afghan troops start ramping up data collection at the border, potential insurgents crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan sometimes get advanced warning.

EDWARDS: The biometrics enrollments, when those are running hot and heavy, sometimes you can even hear them announcing on the mosques across the way - hey, the biometrics are going on, be careful right now.

MARTIN: U.S. officials acknowledge that any long-term solution in Afghanistan has to address the safe haven problem in Pakistan. As long as the border stays porous, the revolving door stays open. U.S. and Afghan officials say operations in the south have broken up some insurgent networks, but now smaller groups have returned and are terrorizing villages with IEDs.

(SOUNDBITE OF OVERLAPPING VOICES)

MARTIN: So part of the NATO mission here is to teach Afghan security forces how to combat that threat. On this day, Air Force Tactical Sergeant Steven Nidzgorski is giving a class on IEDs to Afghan national police officers. They ask questions through a translator.

IED: How many different kinds of IEDs there that we should look out for and how they look, to have a better understanding. Because we could probably find it, yeah, because how many - how many are there, different kinds are there?

STEVEN NIDZGORSKI: As far as devices, they can make them out of anything. They can hide them anywhere. It all depends on how much time they have to make it, how much time they have on scene. You probably not only want to keep an eye on the scene, but keep an eye on the crowd.

MARTIN: Unidentified Man #7: (Through translator) The situation is getting worse day by day, because insurgent activities are getting increased day by day, and we see lots of people that they are doing sabotage activities in Kandahar province.

MARTIN: I ask him, as a member of the Afghan national police, or ANP, if he feels safe.

ANP: He says absolutely no because we're afraid that lots of ANP officer, lots of ANP patrolmen, have been assassinated by the insurgents. And while I'm going home, I'm covering myself, because due to security problem, that's what I'm doing.

MARTIN: Rachel Martin, NPR News, Kabul.

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