February 28, 2011

NPR Interview: Spring Fighting Season Looms In Afghanistan


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

When spring comes, and the snow melts in Afghanistan, the fighting picks up from its winter lull. That's the traditional rhythm, at any rate, to the cycle of war in Afghanistan.

But as we enter this tense spring fighting season, a lot has changed, not least the addition of tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops that President Obama ordered to Afghanistan to try to change the trajectory of the fight.
Some military leaders and analysts point to signs that the counterinsurgency is going as planned. And the White House maintains that troops will start to head home this July with the goal of Afghan forces taking the lead for security across the country by the end of 2014.

Still, there are also worrying developments: new evidence of corruption within Afghanistan's government and security forces, for example, and there are indications that civilian casualties are impeding the counterinsurgency plan. Just two weeks ago, a NATO attack killed as many as 65 civilians in eastern Kunar province. The incident is being investigated by the U.N.

Well, if you have served in Afghanistan, are you optimistic? Let us know. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org, and you can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We're going to begin with C.J. Chivers. He covers the war in Afghanistan for The New York Times, and he's joining us from his home in Providence, Rhode Island, where he's taking a much-needed break from covering the war in Afghanistan.

Chris, nice to have you have you on the program again.

Mr. C.J. CHIVERS (Reporter, The New York Times): Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Well, let me put the question to you first. When you speak to troops on the ground there in Afghanistan, are they optimistic about how it's going?

Mr. CHIVERS: Well, I would say that the lower down the ranks you, the less optimism you find. The pragmatic view of the people actually walking the patrol is that, you know, the - a plan has crested. We have all the forces on the ground. And now what? Where do we go from here? Because what they're controlling is actually a fairly small part of the country, which they call key (technical difficulty) districts. And a lot of the country is still very much, even with all these troops on the ground, out of their influence.

KELLY: And when we talk about the spring fighting season, and traditionally that is when violence would pick up again, do you see it following that track this year?

Mr. CHIVERS: Well, it's - we should start with a caveat. It's always difficult, and I'm very suspicious of any assessments that are made this time of year. February and March is, you know, the end of what's usually a slowdown in the violence, and we can expect things to pick up several weeks on from now. And then we'll have a more clear picture.

But there - if you look at the last few months, you know, where it typically, the violence does go down quite a bit, there's been a lot of sustained incidents. There's been attacked in Jalalabad. There's been attacks in Kabul. The incidents have managed to keep quite a bit of pressure up, even though all these forces are on the ground. So I would think that this year would follow the past patterns and be quite bloody.

To read the full audio transcript, visit NPR.org.