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Rebel Violence in Afghanistan Mounts


In southern Afghanistan, US forces launched air strikes today against suspected rebels. The strikes came after insurgents had attacked a joint US-Afghan patrol. The fighting is just the latest in what seems to be mounting violence by the Taliban. Afghan and US officials fear that the Taliban and its allies in al-Qaeda are regrouping as Afghanistan prepares for parliamentary elections this fall. Joining us from Kabul is Carlotta Gall of The New York Times.

Carlotta, this weekend, rebels have seized some government buildings in southern Afghanistan. Can you tell us what happened?

Ms. CARLOTTA GALL (The New York Times): Well, it happened on Friday. We think they ambushed a government convoy on its way to the district center. This is a very remote mountain area in part of Kandahar province in the south. And they captured the police chief and the district chief and their bodyguards and soldiers and then that night overran the district center itself and burned all the buildings. The details are shaky because most of it's coming from the Taliban's spokesman, but the government has confirmed that the police chief and the district chief are missing and maybe 10, 11 of their soldiers.

LUDDEN: The Taliban has always been strong in Afghanistan's remote areas, especially in the south. How significant do you think these latest attacks are?

Ms. GALL: Well, the shock is that this is coming very fast and very regularly. Every day now we're getting reports of a quite serious clash and also ambushes and roadside explosions. And so they're making a concerted effort to show that they're still in business ahead of the parliamentary elections in September.

LUDDEN: Do you see the Taliban expanding its reach?

Ms. GALL: No. And they don't seem to be able to hold land or anything, but they certainly have made some psychological gains, I would say. They have had some very nasty car bombs recently, which is a fairly rare thing in Afghanistan, and that has had an effect on the population. Really, it doesn't mean to say that people won't vote, but people are now very worried and very scared. So I think it's quite a blow to the Afghan government and, of course, to the US coalition which has been claiming that the Taliban were in decline for the last six months.

LUDDEN: Well, on Friday, Afghanistan's defense minister had quite a frightening announcement. He warned that al-Qaeda is planning to stage Iraq-style attacks in Afghanistan. What's he basing this on?

Ms. GALL: Well, I think this is Afghan intelligence. The Americans are also admitting this is a resurgence of not only Taliban but al-Qaeda, and they have warned that this is going to continue for the next few months in the run-up to September's elections.

LUDDEN: So we've seen US air strikes today. I mean, any sense of what their larger goals are militarily speaking?

Ms. GALL: The US, I think, is concentrating its forces on allowing elections to happen. And there are--What?--maybe 20,000 forces in the country, so they might pull it off. I think they're going to need political pressure on Pakistan, too, from where it's felt a lot of the insurgents are coming. So I think we've got a huge job on their hands.

LUDDEN: Carlotta Gall is a reporter with The New York Times. We reached her in Kabul.

Thank you so much.

Ms. GALL: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.