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Spring Brings Escalating Violence in Afghanistan as U.S. Prepares for Drawdown

April 19, 2011 at 6:26 PM EDT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight, an update on the war in Afghanistan, where the fighting and the casualties continue, even as the story is pushed aside in newspapers and television by the Mideast revolts.

And to Ray Suarez.

RAY SUAREZ: Throughout the spring and winter, fighting has intensified between NATO troops and the Taliban, especially in the south. Bolstered by last year’s surge of 30,000 U.S. troops, U.S. and allied soldiers and Marines pushed more deeply into Kandahar Province and in Helmand Province as well.

The overall commander, U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, sized things up at a U.S. Senate hearing last month.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, International Security Assistance Force: The momentum achieved by the Taliban in Afghanistan since 2005 has been arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas. However, while the security progress achieved over the past year is significant, it is also fragile and reversible.

RAY SUAREZ: But the gains in Afghanistan have come at the price of more American lives. More than 75 U.S. troops have been killed so far this year, bringing the total to more than 1,430 killed since Operation Enduring Freedom began in 2001.

And now that spring has arrived, the pace of fighting and of Taliban attacks is on the rise. Despite progress in Kandahar, a suicide bomber killed the police chief of Kandahar City and two of his officers last Friday. On Saturday, a Taliban agent in the Afghan army killed five American soldiers at this training base. And, yesterday, a roadside bomb killed six Afghan policemen in eastern Afghanistan, as another Taliban infiltrator wearing an Afghan army uniform killed two people inside the Ministry of Defense in Kabul.

The upsurge in violence comes as the beginning of a promised withdrawal of U.S. forces looms in July.

On Friday, President Obama said the planned drawdown would go forward.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I’m confident that the withdrawal will be significant. People will say this is a…

QUESTION: Significant?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, that they will say this is a real process of transition. This is not just a token gesture.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, NATO is scheduled to hand over responsibility for all security to Afghan forces by 2014.