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In Afghanistan, Disenchantment Against Coalition

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In Afghanistan, U.S. military officials acknowledge they're facing an increasingly tough fight against the Taliban and other Islamist militants. Attacks in Eastern Afghanistan in particular have shot up about 40 percent this year, and commanders say they're seeing new trends in the nature of the militants and their tactics.

NPR's Jackie Northam reports from a NATO air base in Kandahar.

JACKIE NORTHAM: Every year, U.S. and NATO commanders in Afghanistan know, expect, that there will be an uptick in attacks by the Taliban and other Islamist militants during the hot, dusty spring and summer months. But Western military officials say this year, they've been surprised by the ferocity of the fighting. Mark Laity is a NATO spokesman.

Mr. MARK LAITY (NATO Civilian Spokesman in Afghanistan): Well, I think in security terms, this is undoubtedly a pretty challenging time. You'd expect it to some degree. This is the fighting season. But year on year, we've seen increases, and this year is no different. I think particular issues are, for instance Pakistan, where there's virtually an open border. And as a result, insurgents are crossing over from that safe haven.

NORTHAM: Lieutenant Colonel Rumi Neilson-Green, a spokesperson for the U.S. military in the eastern part of Afghanistan, says the face of the enemy has changed. It's not just a homogenous group called the Taliban anymore. Neilson-Green says instead, it's a syndicate of militants that are only loosely connected to each other.

Lieutenant Colonel RUMI NEILSON-GREEN (U.S. Military Spokesperson in Afghanistan): We have this sort of connotation over the Taliban as people think of sort of an indigenous group of extremists that are Afghan. That's not what we see in our sector. What we deal with is a more complex group that are influenced by foreign resources as well. Foreign fighters are apparent in that group.

NORTHAM: Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Carsner(ph), a U.S. special forces commander in the southern province of Kandahar, says that syndicated militants may share resources and cooperate with each other. But he says it's far from being a cohesive force with one leader.

Lieutenant Colonel CHRISTOPHER CARSNER(PH) (U.S. Special Forces Commander, Southern Province of Kandahar): It's been said over and over again that one of their strengths is that they're - they don't have a head. And so, it's difficult to cut the head off and kill the animal if they don't have a head. That's also their biggest weakness. They can't synchronize their operations, which is why oftentimes they end up doing foolish military mistakes or fight each other.

NORTHAM: Still, Carsner says the insurgents' tactics are evolving.

Lt. Col. CARSNER: But at the same time, they are learning the enemy also. Actually, they're not very sophisticated, but they have made changes. They have adapted to our techniques, tactics and procedures, our TTPs. But we are getting a handle on very much how they - their modus operandi, what drives them to the decisions that they're going to make.

NORTHAM: That hasn't helped quell the insurgent attacks which have risen substantially over the past few months. Carsner says this year in his sector, there's been an increase in the number of suicide bombings and attacks using improvised explosive devices, IEDs. In the eastern sector, the military is seeing another more worrying trend, says spokesperson Neilson-Green.

Lt. Col. NEILSON-GREEN: We're talking about the actual infantry style technique that they're using, which is more than what people envision with a, you know, the so-called idea of some ragtag bunch of hooligans that all have weapons that sort of don't know what they're doing. That's not what we're seeing. We're beginning to see much more complex, frankly, infantry skills, if you will, where they maneuver as a well-trained, coordinated unit, where they appear to have a plan.

NORTHAM: Neilson-Green says despite better tactics, the militants are soundly beaten by U.S. and NATO forces in almost every encounter. She says allied troops, quote, "kill literally hundreds of insurgents every week." It's not even newsworthy anymore, she says, it's become just routine.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Kandahar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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