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GWEN IFILL: Suspected Taliban fighters ambushed a government checkpoint yesterday, killing eight Afghan soldiers. Over the weekend, two U.S. soldiers died during a 90-minute gun battle, bringing to thirty-five the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan since the U.S. went to war in 2001.
Officials now say hundreds of reconstituted Taliban militants are on the attack in remote southern mountains along the Pakistan border. It’s a battle, which has been building all summer demonstrating that the war in Afghanistan where more than 10,000 U.S. soldiers remain is actually far from over.
The continuing clashes present new challenges for the Afghan government, which is hoping for a new infusion of financial aid from the United States. Ali Jalali is the country’s interior minister. He joins us now. Welcome. Explain to us how it is that the Taliban is regrouping.
ALI JALALI: Well, Afghanistan is a front-line state in the war on terrorism, so it’s not unexpected that the elements of international terrorism will infiltrate into the country and fight the Afghan forces that are trying to provide security for the reconstruction effort that is going on in the country.
And the Taliban tried to send infiltration groups into the country or infiltrated small groups into the country for a while and then they established themselves in a remote area in the mountains called the [inaudible] mountains, which is about 190 kilometers southwest of Kabul. That’s a remote area.
So they wanted to establish a base there. However, from there, they attacked the security forces that caused the construction between Kabul and Kandahar in other reconstruction projects.
However, now an operation has been launched against them and fortunately people in Afghanistan don’t support them. They do not have a logistic system inside Afghanistan so they come and they fight and they get killed or escape.
GWEN IFILL: The distinction you’re making however is they’re not necessarily attacking U.S. and coalition forces. They’re attacking other Afghans.
ALI JALALI: They are attacking Afghan forces. They are attacking coalition forces. They are trying to undermine the reconstruction work in after Afghanistan, to discredit the government and discredit the system and the political process.
GWEN IFILL: Is that working? I know some of the attacks have been along the road from Kabul to Kandahar, which is a major reconstruction project. Has that not slowed it down?
ALI JALALI: No, not at all. The road construction is going on — obviously reports from that area. Along Kabul and Kandahar highway we have deployed the highway patrol brigade. That’s a very strong brigade, well trained police officers. They are protecting the reconstruction work.
GWEN IFILL: There’s been some talk in the United States that Hamid Karzai is actually the mayor of Kabul, which is to say there isn’t much of the government’s reach which is going beyond the capital to, for instance, the southern mountain regions where the reconstituted Taliban happens to be.
ALI JALALI: Oh, this is not true. There is no force in Afghanistan that can question the authority of President Hamid Karzai. There is no force inside Afghanistan that can defy the authority of the central government.
There are problems that the administration does not have the capacity to reach to every quarter of the country. Inside the government, outside the government, in the province and in the remote areas there’s no force that can defy the government of Afghanistan or its legitimacy.
GWEN IFILL: What about al-Qaida? We have heard al-Qaida as the bogeyman in so many cases in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan and there is evidence they were in collusion with the Taliban before. Is there any evidence of that now?
ALI JALALI: Yes. There’s a lot of evidence inside Afghanistan. Just about a few days ago, when combined force of terrorists was defeated in eastern Afghanistan, they included both former Talibans, members of Talibans, Arabs, even fighters from other countries.
GWEN IFILL: Mullah Omar is supposed to be centered right along the Pakistan border and orchestrating a lot of these, the former Taliban leader. Is the border with Pakistan as porous as it once was? Is that part of the problem here?
ALI JALALI: It is porous and it’s part of the problem. Afghanistan and Pakistan are two members of the international coalition against terrorism, and cooperation between the two countries is very crucial in fighting terrorism in this area. We hope that the two countries will work together in order to establish firmer control in the unstable areas along the border between the two countries.
GWEN IFILL: Is that happening or is that just something you’re hoping for?
ALI JALALI: They are trying. We hope. We also requested the Pakistani neighbors to do more in order to prevent cross-border attacks into Afghanistan.
GWEN IFILL: What about Iran?
ALI JALALI: In Iran we have a border with Iran but the immediate threat from remnants of Taliban and al-Qaida as from the… along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
GWEN IFILL: How about the money? There’s been talk for some months here now that Afghans have been arguing for initial… doubling the billion dollars which is already on the table for reconstruction. You’re here in the United States this week talking to some administration officials. Any sense when that’s going to happen?
ALI JALALI: Well, I hope so. There’s a lot of hope that it will happen. The war on terror is not the… it’s a joint campaign between the countries in the region and the world. So it needs international commitment, international cooperation.
I think Afghanistan needs help from international community. We have been receiving assistance but in order to accelerate this war on terrorism or strengthen this struggle against terrorism, Afghanistan needs more resources.
GWEN IFILL: And where does that money go?
ALI JALALI: This money will probably be spent on training national police, Afghan national army, also reconstruction of the country, reconstruction of infrastructure which also plays a major role in stabilization of the country and the war on terrorism.
GWEN IFILL: The President of this United States, President Bush, said in August – and I quote to you – “Thanks to the united states and our final lies Afghanistan is no longer a haven for terror. The Taliban is history and the Afghan people are free.” Are the Taliban history yet?
ALI JALALI: Taliban is a force that can dominate Afghanistan’s history. Afghanistan is no longer a haven for Taliban and the reason that they get defeated very quickly in Afghanistan is because people are against it.
Even they lead government security forces to their locations. That’s why they cannot be… they cannot consider Afghanistan as a safe haven for them anymore.
GWEN IFILL: But some Afghan officials say the Taliban are as strong now as they have been since they were toppled.
ALI JALALI: Well, if they were as strong, why cannot they make inroads in Afghanistan? They come across the border into the country, get killed or escape, cross the border. They do not have the logistic system inside Afghanistan.
GWEN IFILL: Has the war in Iraq had any residual effect in terms of keeping the enemies of the coalition alive in Afghanistan?
ALI JALALI: Well, the war in Iraq has, of course, it splits attention. However, you know, the war in Iraq did not affect Afghanistan in a negative way. But the international terrorism certainly wants to use that in order to make another strong front for the anti-terrorism coalition in Afghanistan but they have not succeeded yet.
GWEN IFILL: What are the major challenges ahead for you right now? You are in charge of a lot of internal security. You’re in charge of the police force, training, rebuilding. What are the big challenges on the plate right now?
ALI JALALI: Security is a major challenge and building national capacity in order to respond to the challenges that we face. In a very short time we will have to convene the Loya Jirga, the grand assembly, to approve the new constitution of the country.
And also soon Afghanistan begins a major campaign for voter registration across the country. And then in June or next year, the general elections will be held. Providing security for all these major events is a challenge. And the national capacity should be built to the extent that can be able to respond to these challenges.
GWEN IFILL: What can the international community do to help with that?
ALI JALALI: The international community can help Afghanistan accelerate the training and building the national police force, Afghan national army, and also the local capacities, the infrastructure that can help provide security in the country.
GWEN IFILL: Thank you very much for joining us.
ALI JALALI: Thank you very much.