STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep. Afghanistan may be America's ally in the war on terror. Pakistan may be, too, but that doesn't mean they get along.
Yesterday, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai accused his neighbor, Pakistan, of allowing cross-border attacks by the Taliban. Karzai threatened to send Afghan forces the other direction, into Pakistan.
President HAMID KARZAI (Afghanistan): Afghanistan has the right of self-defense. When they cross the territory from Pakistan to come and kill Afghans and to kill coalition troops, it exactly gives us the right to go back and do the same.
INSKEEP: Let's go next to NPR's Ivan Watson. He's in southern Afghanistan, where he's been spending time with U.S. troops. And Ivan, is Afghanistan's president capable of sending an army across the border if he wants to?
IVAN WATSON: Steve, this seems to be a largely empty threat. Karzai doesn't even have enough Afghan soldiers or police to control large swaths of his own territory, and he has to rely on a force of more than 50,000 NATO alliance troops that are involved in daily clashes with Taliban insurgents all across southern and eastern Afghanistan to keep his government standing.
INSKEEP: Nevertheless, this does seem to underline some real frustration between Afghanistan and Pakistan - two U.S. allies, in theory.
WATSON: There has been a lot of bad blood between the Pakistan president, Pervez Musharraf, and the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, but here we do see definitely an escalation in the rhetoric coming from Hamid Karzai. He singled out Taliban leaders who operate on the Pakistani side of the border.
One in particular, Baitullah Mehsud, Karzai said he would go hit Mehsud in his house, even. And of course, Mehsud's spokesman has warned that the Taliban would also increase its cross-border activities if Hamid Karzai tried to follow through on this threat.
INSKEEP: Ivan Watson, let's talk about the troops that Hamid Karzai is relying on, those NATO forces, particularly U.S. forces, whom you've been spending time with. What part of the country are you in? What kind of an area is it?
WATSON: I'm in Helmand Province. It's a major drug-producing in the south of Afghanistan, and this is where British troops have been battling Taliban insurgents for two years. They've lost more than 100 soldiers.
The U.S. Marines, a Marine expeditionary unit, was brought in to battle the Taliban in one particularly dangerous district, Garmser District. They managed to capture that area from the Taliban.
They had about two weeks of quiet, a honeymoon basically, until an IED, a roadside bomb, went off over the course of the weekend and injured three Marines there. There's probably going to be more to come like this, these suicide bombs and asymmetric attacks like roadside bombs, which have claimed a large number of NATO casualties.
INSKEEP: When you're following these Marines, do they face this classic challenge, Ivan, of making friends while also killing people?
WATSON: It's a huge challenge for them. They spent a month fighting, and now suddenly they're trying to win the hearts and minds of the people while also being terrified. So you had very interesting interactions where the Marines would ask vehicles to stop. They'd point their weapons at them. Then they'd slowly ask the Afghans to get out of their cars. They'd search them, ask them to lift their shirts to expose their stomachs to show that there were no explosives there. Then they would try to talk and make friends and be friendly and say we're here to help you.
INSKEEP: What sense did you get of how Afghans were feeling after going through that process, those encounters?
WATSON: I did not see the local community embracing the arrival of the U.S. Marines. The Marines seemed to be waiting for the Afghan government to come in to take the lead, but I saw almost no Afghan government presence on the ground in this district. And that's left a foreign force of U.S. Marines on the ground in a tenuous position on the lookout for suicide attacks and somehow trying to make friends with a population that doesn't speak its language.
INSKEEP: NPR's Ivan Watson is in southern Afghanistan. Ivan, thanks very much.
WATSON: You're welcome, Steve.
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