RAY SUAREZ: Two years after U.S. forces swept into Afghanistan and toppled the ruling Taliban, stability and prosperity remain elusive goals for a country that has endured more than two decades of occupation and civil war.
Recently, a French U.N. worker was killed in a drive-by shooting in the central Afghan province of Ghazni. The death of the 29-year old woman prompted the U.N. refugee agency to scale back its operations.
Attacks on aid workers now number about 20 a month - double the figure from six months ago.
Meanwhile, in the North, clashes between militias loyal to warlords continue - although some ethnic leaders have now joined President Hamid Karzai's government.
In the South, Afghan officials attribute a new wave of violence to the resurgence of the Taliban along the Pakistani border. Osama bin Laden is thought to be hiding in that region; some 9,000 U.S. soldiers are searching for him there.
In the last six months, at least 15 American service people have died in Afghanistan. Throughout the country, more U.S. troops are going to outlying towns to help keep the peace and to aid reconstruction efforts.
Also involved in peacekeeping is a NATO-led force of 5,700. Its mandate was recently expanded to include areas outside the capital of Kabul. Rebuilding Afghanistan has proved daunting.
So far, the U.S. has funneled $2.5 billion into the task and another $1.2 billion has been approved by Congress for military operations and reconstruction.
One major project: a highway stretching from Kabul to Kandahar - to cut the trip between those cities from two days to five hours.
MIKE STAPLES, Louis Berger Group: People in the areas alongside the highway will be able to get to health care say or schools or jobs that much quicker. It is going to make a big difference in a lot of people's lives.
RAY SUAREZ: But the high unemployment and a faltering economy in the fifth poorest nation in the world have prompted a revival of the country's poppy trade. Farmers claim the production of opium - used to make heroin - is their only means of survival.
BADAMGUL, Poppy Farmer: (translated from Pashtun) For 22 years there has been war in our country. The people are poor and our country has been destroyed by war. Growing poppies is the only way people can make a living.
RAY SUAREZ: But the Karzai government and its American backers are claiming some successes ...some afghans are responding to the president's call to hand in their weapons in exchange for money or jobs.
And next month, the loya jirga, or grand assembly, will vote on a newly written constitution. The document lays out a structure for a democratic government including an elected president.
RAY SUAREZ: The new U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzhad, is an ethnic Pashtun and an Afghan American who served as President Bush's special envoy to the country after the war. He flies to Kabul today to begin his new job. I talked to him last week.
RAY SUAREZ: In the last several weeks there's been a sort of a steady progression of small attacks in Afghanistan against non-governmental organization personnel, U.S. forces, agents of the government.
What does the pattern and the sort of up tempo of these attacks tell you?
ZALMAY KHALILZAD: When we went to Afghanistan, we killed a number of Taliban and al-Qaida people, captured some, and the rest scattered. Many went to Pakistan and other countries. And in recent weeks and months, there has been some regrouping that has taken place, and as a result, there has been some increase in cross-border attacks by the Taliban and their extremist friends in Afghanistan. For the most part, they are going after soft targets, perhaps learning from Iraq, and killing people who have come to Afghanistan to rebuild the country after 20 years of war.
When they have regrouped to go after coalition forces, they have been dealt with very severely. They've... for example, in Daychopan, in Zabul, in August, they lost quite a lot of people. So they are... they are trying to delay and prevent reconstruction of the country. They see that as a threat for the future of the Taliban and their friends.
RAY SUAREZ: Now, you mentioned Pakistan, which of course is right next to one of the most active parts of the theater in Afghanistan. The president frequently refers to it as full partner in the war on terror, but in recent weeks you in public statements have called into question Pakistan's commitment.
ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Pakistan is a partner in the war against terror. It has been helpful in hunting down al-Qaida members in Pakistan. It can do even more on that.
But with regards to the Taliban, Pakistani territory has been used as a sanctuary by the Taliban. I look forward to working with the Pakistanis, as others are in the U.S. government, that the use of Pakistani territory as sanctuary by the Taliban must end.
RAY SUAREZ: As you watch the reporting coming out of Afghanistan, you get a very mixed picture of what life there is like for most Afghans. From your point of view, what is the security and daily-life situation like in the country you are about to take up your post?
ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Well, it's a country in transition. There is a lot of good things that have happened. Schools have opened. One of things that encourages me very much is the yearning to learn on the part of Afghans. Twice as many kids as we had expected showed up to go to school. There are women now teaching and working in other professions -- a good thing. Roads are being built. Schools and clinics are being built.
But on the other hand, there are security problems that continue. Life is hard for a lot of Afghans. Twenty years of war has destroyed many of the institutions that the country had, and it didn't have a lot even then. I see as my mission to help accelerate the good things, and to deal with and limit and reduce the negative things that are on the scene.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, one thing that looks like it's going in the wrong direction is the cultivation of the poppy for opium. Who is running the effort on that? What can we expect to see in the near future?
ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Of course, poppy production is a different challenge. The Brits have the lead on that. Many of the things that we are doing should help.
First, people need to find alternative ways to make a reasonable living. And accelerated reconstruction program, including building roads and encouraging private sector, building more clinics and schools, and increasing the government capacity to provide services, should provide more jobs for more Afghans. Two: Increasing government capacity in terms of police and military, as well as the infrastructure, roads, should make it easier for the government to enforce its laws, which is against the cultivation and trafficking of narcotics.
RAY SUAREZ: There are only 9,000 American troops or so in Afghanistan. Is that enough to get the country to where it can be a normal place? There are still private armies in the field run by warlords, still the Taliban forces that we talked about earlier. Is 9,000 enough?
ZALMAY KHALILZAD: The ultimate answer to Afghanistan's security problem is the Afghan army, Afghan police, fair laws fairly applied.
But in the transition, while we are making progress with regard to building those institutions, they need help. And help is coming from the coalition, and also by the NATO forces now that have taken control of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] in Kabul. And recently we supported the removal of the limitation that was imposed by the United Nations Security Council of ISAF-NATO to Kabul. They will go to Kunduz, and we will be positively looking to further expansion of NATO's role.
Similarly, we have regional reconstruction teams that play a positive role with regard to reconstruction as well as security, and I'll be reviewing with a view to increasing the numbers. We know what failure and disengagement in Afghanistan can produce; the dastardly attacks that took place here in September were planned by the terrorists, Afghanistan as their playground. We don't want to go back to that. So I have a clear mission to accelerate the reconstruction, to accelerate the effort to defeat what remains of al-Qaida and the Taliban there.
RAY SUAREZ: Ambassador Khalilzhad, thanks for being with us.
ZALMAY KHALILZAD: Thank you very much.