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We lead this week with a pair of stories from The New York Times, each with a very different tone regarding the southern province of Kandahar in Afghanistan. The first article, titled Coalition Forces Routing Taliban in Key Afghan Region describes the recent progress made by NATO forces in pushing the Taliban out of the area and across the border into Pakistan. It states:
A series of civilian and military operations around the strategic southern province, made possible after a force of 12,000 American and NATO troops reached full strength here in the late summer, has persuaded Afghan and Western officials that the Taliban will have a hard time returning to areas they had controlled in the province that was their base.
The article details the momentum Western forces have in the region, calling it "a comprehensive civil and military effort that is changing the public mood as well as improving security."
The Taliban may be leaving the area in large numbers, but this has not come about without intense fighting and great damage. An article titled In Afghan South, U.S. Faces Frustrated Residents, describes the struggle of the residents in Kandahar. "While most villagers have fled the area, those who remain complain that they are trapped between insurgents and the foreign forces, often suffering damages for which they remain uncompensated."
They remain uncompensated due to military bureaucracy, corrupt local officials, or from simply not asking to be paid for damage done to their land or home out of fear of Taliban reprisal.
"When the Taliban know you went to the district, or to the city, they come and see you and say, 'What is this?' Then they take the money and beat you," said one farmer, asking not to be named.
So goes the war in Afghanistan; even when you read a positive article about the war perhaps taking a turn for the better, there is another that shows the inevitable and devastating effects the war has on the local population. And this post from Wired's Danger Room blog calls into question the claim in the first Times article that a new, highly accurate rocket, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, is behind the recent success in "routing" the Taliban. According to Wired, the rocket is neither new nor as accurate as described in the Times piece.
The Christian Science Monitor, too, has a piece on Kandahar this week, stating that as Kandahar goes, so too will the country. "If the Kandahar offensive is successful, coalition forces will control the last and largest Taliban stronghold. If unsuccessful, the failure to win Kandahar could set back the faltering war effort." It describes the development of Afghan security forces as the key to maintaining control of Kandahar City and the drug use, illiteracy and fear of retribution that plagues the Afghan National Police.
Meanwhile, in Kabul, talks are reportedly beginning to take place between the Afghan government and the Taliban. According to The Washington Post, the talks thus far have "focused on establishing a site for more formal negotiations on the war, as well as guarantees of safe passage for participants, according to the head of Afghanistan's new peace council." Similarly, NPR reports that comprehensive talks about reconciliation have yet to begin. Before the talks can begin in earnest, the Taliban must recognize the legitimacy of President Karzai and the Afghan government, and its leaders must believe they'll be given safe passage to the negotiation table and a fair shot at reconciliation and reintegration.
This blog post from The Atlantic takes a step back and asks whether the United States should negotiate with the Taliban. After all, fundamentalists by their nature don't leave themselves a whole lot of room for compromise when it comes to their world view.
Lastly, The GlobalPost story takes you out on a night mission with a mixed team of U.S. troops and former insurgents who are now allies. It features images and the sounds of startled and confused soldiers as the two sides try to work together to find a local Taliban commander. It does not end well.
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