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NATO Bloodshed in Afghanistan Spikes Ahead of Planned Surge

June 8, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Violence raged in Afghanistan this week, just ahead of the launch of a major NATO offensive in the country's Taliban-held south. Ray Suarez talks to GlobalPost reporter Jean MacKenzie in Kabul for the latest.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was another deadly day for NATO troops in Southern Afghanistan. Two Americans died in a roadside bombing, and a British soldier was shot and killed while on patrol. Twenty-four NATO soldiers have been killed in the country in the last week alone. For more on recent military and political developments, we get a report from Jean MacKenzie of GlobalPost, the international news Web site.

Ray Suarez talked with her from Kabul earlier today.

RAY SUAREZ: Jean MacKenzie, welcome.

This most recent action represented the largest NATO one-day loss of life since last year. Are Taliban fighters more active than they have been in previous months?

JEAN MACKENZIE, GlobalPost: I think that would be a pretty accurate assessment. The Taliban have declared an offensive called al-Fath, or “the Victory,” and have warned that they are going to step up their attacks.

I think that that’s what we’re seeing. There were five NATO soldiers killed the day before and at least three were killed today. So, we have seen 20 soldiers lose their lives over the past three days. Of course, there are more soldiers in Afghanistan now than there were because of the U.S. troop surge.

And this is also contributing to — to the rise in casualties. We have more boots on the ground in more dangerous places. And that, combined with Taliban’s new aggressiveness, is — is making life very difficult.

RAY SUAREZ: There was also violence around the peace jirga, the conference of 1,500 tribal and political leaders, that met to discuss President Karzai’s efforts to reach out to the Taliban. Did some of the increase in combat and bombings have to do with that jirga, the gathering brought together by President Karzai?

JEAN MACKENZIE: Well, I think the Taliban delivered a very clear message to the peace jirga, which is that they were not prepared to — to talk at this point, that, until the — until they saw a real opening with the Afghan government and with the international community, they would answer any — any overtures, what they called phony overtures, with violence. And that is what we saw on the first day of the jirga.

RAY SUAREZ: At the conclusion of the peace jirga, what did they finally come up with? What were their recommendations for going forward?

JEAN MACKENZIE: Well, the conference came up with a set of suggestions that were then coordinated into a final declaration.

The final declaration included outreach to the Taliban, a beginning of negotiations, reintegration of low-level Taliban fighters, release of Taliban prisoners from detention centers in Afghanistan, both foreign and Afghan detention centers, and also more control over the foreign forces, an end to night raids, house searches, and bombing of civilian areas.

RAY SUAREZ: Also, in the past few days, we have seen the resignation of Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghan intelligence, and Hanif Atmar, the interior minister.

Were these significant cabinet posts, significant losses to the Karzai team?

JEAN MACKENZIE: They were very significant cabinet posts. This is two of the three security ministers, and they were very strong and very powerful ministers.

I think people in Kabul are talking about little else these days, except what the reasons are for the removal of Atmar and Saleh. Of course, their resignations were forced. They were quite open about this. Karzai apparently had a very acrimonious meeting with both of them, at the end of which they tendered their resignations, which were immediately accepted.

The announced reason for this was the attacks on the jirga, but very few people in Kabul are giving this any credence. We have heard versions ranging from the ministers have been plotting against Karzai, to American involvement, that they wanted one or both of the ministers gone, to British involvement, that they wanted one or both of the ministers gone.

Everyone has got an explanation, but none of these explanations seem to jibe with — with each other.

RAY SUAREZ: It’s interesting that you mentioned the British and the Americans, because a lot of the reporting around these Atmar and Saleh’s departure describes them as men who worked well and closely with their counterparts in Western intelligence and were considered pretty competent.

JEAN MACKENZIE: They were considered to be competent managers. They were known as the technocrats.

Atmar has been in three different ministries since 2002. Saleh has been the intelligence chief since 2004. It was a significant loss. It will be a significant loss. And there — there’s likely to be a period of great instability, until we know who is going to head these ministries.

But I think a lot of time is going to pass before we know exactly why Atmar and Saleh were removed and what actually stands behind that.

RAY SUAREZ: Jean MacKenzie, thanks for joining us.