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The Taliban resurge in Afghanistan — and ISIS also moves in

Fifteen years since the start of the American intervention in Afghanistan, Islamic extremism is resurging in the region. The Taliban are slowly regaining ground, especially in the valuable poppy fields of the south, and now ISIS is making its presence felt too. Hari Sreenivasan talks to special correspondent Jennifer Glasse for more on the escalating state of hostilities on the ground.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    It's been 15 years since the fight began in Afghanistan. There are signs that the Taliban is now strengthening again. And ISIS is making its presence felt, too.

    The U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014, but thousands of foreign troops remain to aid in the fight.

    We're joined now by special correspondent Jennifer Glasse in Kabul.

    Jennifer, we have noticed an increase in the number of headlines about violence, the car bombs and so forth from Afghanistan. Put this in perspective. How active is this fighting?

  • JENNIFER GLASSE:

    Well, Hari, we have seen fighting around the country. The Taliban announced their spring offensive in April.

    And, of course, we have seen them fighting in the north in Kunduz. There was a large attack here in Kabul about a week after they announced the spring offensive. But just in the last 10 days or so, we're seeing an uptick in fighting in their heartland, in Helmand in the south of the country.

    We spoke to people in Lashkar Gah. That's the provincial capital of Helmand province. And they are very concerned. They say there's been a lot of fighting, especially in the last nine or 10 days. They can actually hear the gunfire in the center of the city.

    They say the Taliban have tried to attack a number of areas around the city, in the ring of security around the city. They have managed to take a few checkpoints, and, yesterday, 15 Afghan policemen were killed.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, so it seems that multiple forces here, Taliban on one side, maybe ISIS on the other. Any idea of the scale of how large this opposition is?

  • JENNIFER GLASSE:

    We don't know exactly how many fighters there are. The Taliban claimed to have thousands of fighters ready to launch an offensive this year.

    They usually exaggerate their numbers. What is clear then is the Taliban can inflict very, very large damage. Last year, Afghan security forces took very heavy casualties, 5,500 killed. That's about 15 a day, and 14 — about 14,000 injured. That was 2015 alone, and they're bracing for another difficult year.

    The Taliban have been effective in the kind of attacks they have carried out. So, even when they took Kunduz for three days last year, the first time they took a city, they only went in, stayed for three days, and went out. It really created a lot of fear. It was very effective, and yet they have been able to hold a lot of area in the country.

    And things have really picked up just in the last 10 days or so because it's the end of the poppy harvest season, the opium harvest season in the south. A lot of Taliban fighters take part in that opium harvest. We're told it's going to be a bumper crop. And so, of course, that's a lot more money for the Taliban.

    As for ISIS, they are largely in the east of the country, and their numbers are estimated to be in the hundreds, but it's very hard to tell.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    How involved is the American military in these battles?

  • JENNIFER GLASSE:

    Well, there are about 10,000 U.S. forces still here. They have got two missions, train, advise, and assist, and a counterterrorism mission.

    Now, we know that Afghan special forces have been fighting alongside Afghan forces. We just learned recently that in the — in Kunduz last September and October, when the Taliban took the city for three days, American special forces were fighting very actively in Kunduz.

    We know that there are also American special forces guiding Afghan special forces in Helmand province, and about several hundred, about 500 or more U.S. army troops from the 10th Mountain Division are in Helmand province now. They got there in February. Now, that's a big mission. They're trying to reform and retrain the army 215 Corps.

    They have fired all the commanders and all the leaders there. They are trying to get the Afghans to be a little bit more aggressive, to get off checkpoints and to engage the Taliban more effectively.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Now, there has also been some change in military leadership on the American side. Has there been any sort of a strategy or a vision laid out on what might change in the near future?

  • JENNIFER GLASSE:

    Well, we know that the new commander here, General Nicholson, is conducting a 90-day review as to what should happen next.

    Right now, there are 9,800 U.S. forces in country. That right now is scheduled to go down to 5,500 by the end of the year. And we know that General Nicholson is reviewing that, checking to see what is going on here. And he's expected to give President Obama his advice in the next month or so, when he finishes that review, as to whether he believes those forces should remain — those 10,000 forces should remain in Afghanistan.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Jennifer Glasse joining us from Kabul tonight, thanks so much.

  • JENNIFER GLASSE:

    Good to be with you.

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