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More NATO Troops Sent to Battle Resurgent Taliban


This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick. Coming up: beach book bingo, great reads new for the summer season.

BRAND: First though, in southern Afghanistan the Taliban is gaining power. This comes just as the U.S. is handing over operations in that part of the country to NATO. James Appathurai is a NATO spokesman.

Mr. JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): No one is shying away from a fight and they don't have to wait until they're shot at to take action. They are spreading out throughout the south to establish presence, presence in areas where the central government had never had a presence. They're basically pushing into ungoverned space and if there are those who try to stop them, they will take action, they have taken action, and they can.

BRAND: Joining us now from Kabul is Carlotta Gall. She's a reporter for the New York Times. And Carlotta, NATO is increasing its troops to 16,000, up from 9700. Will that be enough to fight what is a growing insurgency in southern Afghanistan?

Ms. CARLOTTA GALL (Reporter, New York Times): That's the big question. And they are promising that once they're up to speed and all in place that they will represent the strongest force so far that we've had in Afghanistan, and certainly in the south of Afghanistan for the last four or five years.

But we've also seen an extraordinary increase in the insurgency, especially this year, and we don't really know if it's going to be enough. But certainly I've just been down to Kandahar, at the moment it's not enough. Everyone is running scared among the civilian population, and they're hoping it'll work, but they're still waiting to see the results of the NATO arrival. And some of them are very alarmed that actually it's too little too late.

BRAND: Well, how powerful is the Taliban there now?

Ms. GALL: It's hard to say. And some of the military will tell you this is not out of our control, this is not such a big insurgency we can't handle it. But the feeling is that they are everywhere now in the rural areas, that they are moving around in the villages and creating a great deal of fear among the villagers.

And certainly from what we're seeing this week and last week and today, there's little things popping everywhere. And the British troops in Helmand had a battle. The other coalition troops, I think, Canadians are reporting fighting in Uruzgan and in Kandahar. And so there are things popping all the time. And so they seem to be scrambling to deal with incidents all the time. So you're wondering are they going to get on top of the region as a whole.

Now, NATO is promising that. We just saw the American ambassador today, who's also promising some real results in the next month or two. So I think this mid-summer will be a real crunch time.

BRAND: President Hamid Karzai said over the weekend that his government will give weapons to local tribesmen so that they can fight the Taliban. Is that seen as a good idea or something that could actually increase civil strife?

Ms. GALL: There's some concern about this, but it's come out of a request by all the governors of the southern provinces, some of whom are new, and they've asked for more police for all of their districts. Some of them just have 40 men in a district, and they're saying we need 200 to fight the Taliban, because sometimes the Taliban turns up in numbers of one or two or three hundred at a time.

So this is what President Karzai is working on. And he's promised them more men. And there's a bit of a debate over how they should recruit the men, where they should come from, and how well trained they should be before they're let loose into the districts. And I think the coalition and some in the government are trying to say, hold on, let's train them, let's recruit good people, and not let, you know, private militias suddenly re-emerge. And then we've got the problem of warlords and bad behavior by militias who aren't responsible to the central government.

BRAND: Thank you, Carlotta.

Ms. GALL: Okay, thanks.

BRAND: Carlotta Gall is reporting for the New York Times in Kabul, Afghanistan.

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BRAND: And there's more coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.