U.S., Taliban Both Claim Momentum in Afghan War
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JEFFREY BROWN: The war in Afghanistan went on unabated today, as another anniversary passed. At the same time, Afghan leaders talked of trying to end the conflict.
October 7, 2001, U.S. warships fired cruise missiles in the opening hours of the invasion of Afghanistan. After nine years of fighting at varying levels of intensity, the war against the Taliban has again heated up.
Today, NATO reported airstrikes and ground assaults killed dozens of insurgents. Two NATO soldiers also were killed. At the same time, talks to negotiate an end to the war took center stage in Kabul. President Hamid Karzai convened a new peace council to reconcile with militants who renounce violence.
HAMID KARZAI, President of Afghanistan (through translator): To the opposition forces, Taliban, or any other citizen of this country who are inside or outside the country and are willing to serve the country, who want peace, once again, I call upon them to use this opportunity and welcome this initiative.
JEFFREY BROWN: The Taliban issued a statement of its own. It claimed it now controls 75 percent of Afghanistan and urged the U.S. and its allies to withdraw.
The group said, “The strongholds of jihad and resistance against the invading Americans and their allies are as strong as ever.”
But, at the Pentagon this week, spokesman Geoff Morrell insisted the war has tilted against the Taliban.
GEOFF MORRELL, spokesperson, Pentagon: Those who have remained and dug in and who are determined to fight are feeling enormous pressure. And the operational tempo that we’re now undertaking is extraordinarily fast.
It’s — we have more troops than we have ever had before conducting more operations than ever before. And — and the Taliban is clearly feeling it.
JEFFREY BROWN: In all, about 150,000 foreign troops are fighting in Afghanistan. More than 78,000 of those are Americans, including 30,000 that President Obama added this year. They’re set to begin drawing down in July 2011.
U.S. commanders on the ground insist they are making progress, especially in the ongoing offensive against Kandahar in the south.
LT. COL. THOMAS MCFADYEN, U.S. Army Battalion Commander, 1st Squadron: We have taken back territory from the Taliban, as well as taken some of their ammunition and caches that they have. This is a very dedicated enemy who’s very willing to fight.
JEFFREY BROWN: As a result, casualties have shot up this year. Last June, NATO forces suffered more than 100 killed in action, the highest monthly toll of the war. The figure has fallen somewhat since, but 15 NATO service members have been killed already this month.
Overall, more than 2,000 NATO troops have died since the war began. More than half of those deaths were Americans. Lately, the international forces in Afghanistan have also faced delayed deliveries of supplies and equipment, after Pakistan closed a key border crossing.
It was retaliation for a NATO helicopter raid that killed three Pakistani border guards. The U.S. and NATO have apologized, but a Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman said today there’s still no date for reopening the crossing.
ABDUL BASIT, spokesperson, Pakistani Foreign Ministry: Our authorities are evaluating the security situation, and a decision with regard to reopening the supply route will be taken in due course.
JEFFREY BROWN: In the meantime, stalled NATO convoys in Pakistan have been targeted repeatedly by the Taliban.