AC: "...all of which leaves the view from Kandahar one of a Taliban war machine that shows no signs of slowing."
September 09, 2009
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The third AC360 report is a look at the changes in Kandahar and the results of a recent truck bombing (the location of yesterday's piece for BackStory.) Michael also tracks down some more old friends and gets their views on the current situation.
(Read about Ahmed Wali Karzai in this article written for Time in February 2002 and Astad Abdul Halim in this article for Time from March 2002.)
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Michael Ware is in Kandahar for us, where that standoff, that waiting game is deadly serious. And Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with an elite army chopper team, medics who fly low and fast under hostile fire to save lives.
COOPER: The situation on the ground here in Afghanistan is deteriorating. U.S. officials admit that. The last two months have been the deadliest for U.S. forces here. The Taliban has been on the move, into areas traditionally they haven't even been in, in the north and in the west.
The fight for Afghanistan is happening all across this country. The city of Kandahar is a prime example. It's a place where citizens are terrorized by Taliban members, and where attacks are launched against U.S. and NATO forces.
Michael Ware spent some time there recently. Take a look at his report.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: How does that make people feel here in Kandahar?
(voice-over): I wanted to see what had happened to this place since I had left. Kandahar: it's the birthplace of the Taliban and the capital of the south, the fiercest combat zone. I once lived here, before Iraq and after the fall of the Taliban.
(on camera): So much has changed here in Kandahar. There's new buildings. There's new roads. There's new tree lines. But there's also a new Taliban. There's a Taliban here that wasn't here just a few years ago and this city now lives in the shadow of the Taliban.
The Taliban control neighborhoods here. In fact, this is a Taliban neighborhood. These police are from a police station right in the midst of a Taliban stronghold. They're very much on the front lines, guarding the gates to Kandahar.
(voice-over): In fact, here in this marketplace, the mood among shopkeepers is anxious. "Everyone in Kandahar is saying the city is surrounded," this businessman says. "There's something like 200 men standing here. Go. Ask them -- is there Taliban or not?"
Here, the sense of a city under siege goes much deeper than just hurting business. Even here in the city, you cannot speak out against the Taliban. "Those who do speak up face a terrible conclusion," this shopkeeper says. I found, for many, these fears are growing -- even though a major U.S. and Canadian base is located at Kandahar's air field, just outside the city limits -- their vehicles in the city streets.
So for more answers, I turn to some old friends. One is Ahmed Wali Karzai, brother to the Afghan president and now patriarch and leader of the family's tribe.
AHMED WALI KARZAI, BROTHER OF HAMID KARZAI: Pockets of Taliban, that's what it is. And it's not a major force to I should be have a fear sitting here that they might be -- come over to come attack us tonight. This is merely now they're surrounding the city.
WARE: But it also seems those small pockets of Taliban are turning to old and highly successful tactics. They're using the same valleys, mountain passes, and many of the same old commanders who defeated the Soviet army.
This man, another old friend, was a guerrilla hero of the war against the Soviets here. He's now head of a massive tribe tied closely to the Taliban.
"The Taliban are walking in the steps of the Mujahideen, who fought the Russians," he says. "If the Taliban hear that the government is coming to an area, they simply escape to a safe place to spend the night."
And it's not just in the villages.
(on camera) Just one week ago, what's said to have been a massive truck bomb detonated just here, right in the heart of Kandahar city itself. On this side of the road was the offices of an aid agency and houses. You can see the blast absolutely leveled the buildings. On that day, over 40 Afghan civilians lost their lives.
And you can see the size of the blast. A week later, they're still cleaning up.
On this side of the street were shops and businesses and a reception hall for weddings. Convoys carrying American trucks are passing by on this very street. And as I'm standing here, speaking to you right now in this devastation, just a few suburbs away, over there, less than a mile, is a Taliban-controlled district.
(voice-over) And local police commanders say there's no hint of improvement. The major U.S. military offensive in nearby Helmand province they say, is killing Taliban fighters, but the Taliban keeps evolving and finding new ways to wage war, all of which leaves the view from Kandahar one of a Taliban war machine that shows no signs of slowing.
(on camera) A Taliban war machine that's ever growing, while the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate. The country is in a national political limbo. They don't even know who their president is because of corruption allegations plaguing the presidential election results.
And militarily, the American war plan is also in limbo. The generals have to go back to D.C. They need more troops. They need to look at how they're fighting this war and they need to rethink it.
So all of this while the Taliban is growing stronger is now all eyes on the White House. Is President Obama ready to step up to fight this war -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes, and a classified strategy assessment has been given by General Stanley McChrystal to President Obama for him to look at. Very likely in the coming months, or maybe even weeks, there may be a request for increased U.S. forces here in the country. We'll have more from Michael Ware throughout the week.