Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Gunmen attack NATO supply trucks in Pakistan

Gunmen in Pakistan set fire to 20 trucks carrying supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan on Wednesday, police said, the latest in a series of assaults on the logistical backbone of the war in Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities, angered by repeated incursions by NATO helicopters from Afghanistan, last week blocked a supply route for the troops in Afghanistan. The latest attack on fuel tankers took place on another route near the southwestern city of Quetta.

NATO incursions and the border closure have raised tensions between the U.S. and Pakistan, long-time but uneasy allies.

U.S. pressure on Islamabad to crack down on militants in its northwest tribal areas who cross the border to attack Western troops in Afghanistan is also source of friction.

An alleged al Qaeda plot to attack European targets has put Pakistan's performance against militants under scrutiny again.

A British man killed by an air strike in Pakistan had ties with the would-be Times Square bomber, a Pakistani intelligence official, who declined to be named, told Reuters.

He said the Briton, Abdul Jabbar, had also been in the process of setting up a branch for the Taliban in Britain.

"He had some links to Faisal Shahzad but the nature of the ties are not clear," the official said, referring to the Pakistani-born U.S. citizen who was sentenced to life in prison in the United States this week for trying to set off a car bomb in New York's busy Times Square.

Those links are likely to fuel concerns that al Qaeda and groups linked to it, such as Pakistan's Taliban, which trained Shahzad, are becoming an increasing threat to Western nations.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in early September vowed to launch attacks in the United States and Europe "very soon." It had previously made similar threats but Shahzad's plot was the closest it has come to success.

The TTP claimed responsibility for most of the latest attacks on NATO trucks. Nearly 70 vehicles have been hit.

On Wednesday, 14 gunmen in two pickup trucks opened fire on the trucks and torched them, killing a driver.

The bulk of supplies for the foreign forces in Afghanistan moves through Pakistan which is itself battling a deadly homegrown Taliban insurgency.

Analysts say supply routes to Afghanistan give Pakistan leverage over the U.S.' war efforts in Afghanistan, although Pakistan often cites security concerns as reasons for closures.

Tensions could deepen if Washington demands more cooperation from Pakistan before a gradual U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which has raised concerns over the country's stability, starts in July 2011.

Zarsanga receives assistance

Members of various social and political organisations visited the noted Pashto folk singer Zarsanga at her tent and provided her financial support after the story of her misery was highlighted by media.

A delegation of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and Mir Khalil-ur-Rehman Foundation comprising Ashfaq Paracha, Riyasat Sarhadi and Kifayat on the special instructions of PTI Chairman Imran Khan visited her and assured an all-out support.
The PTI delegation conveyed the message of Imran Khan to Zarsanga who was left without shelter in the recent flood in Nowshera as her house and belongings were swept away by floodwaters.
In his message Imran Khan said that Zarsanga contributed matchless services for the promotion of Pashto language and its folklore for more than 35 years. The delegation assured her that her house would be rebuilt as in the next couple of days a team of builders sent by the PTI chairman would reach Nowshera district.
Meanwhile, director of the Bacha Khan Education Foundation Dr Khadim Hussain also visited her tent and gave her Rs30,000 in cash along with food items. Thanking all those who helped her, the singer said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minister for Sports and Culture Syed Aqil Shah also gave her Rs100,000 after her ordeal was reported in the media.

Afghanistan opium production cut nearly in half by fungus

Opium production in Afghanistan this year plunged by nearly half from 2009 levels, the United Nations said in a report Thursday. But the steep drop was attributed to a fungus that wreaked havoc on the poppy crop, not to Western anti-narcotics efforts.

The scarcity dramatically drove up prices so much that officials fear poppy cultivation will prove an irresistible option in the coming year for farmers whom authorities are trying to entice to grow legal crops. And despite the blight, the premium prices probably put about as much drug money into the insurgency's coffers as previously.In its annual survey, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said this year's opium output was the lowest since 2003, but even so, Afghanistan continues to dominate the world supply. Moreover, homegrown drug use is increasing. In rural areas here, opium is commonly used as a painkiller, even for small children, and the ranks of urban addicts grow daily.

Poppy growth is concentrated in southern Afghanistan, the insurgency's main stronghold. Fighting makes it more difficult to contain drug production, though a government incentive program was credited with a slight drop in poppy cultivation in Helmand province, where intense clashes have taken place this year between Western troops and the Taliban.

Although the summer "fighting season" is drawing to a close, violence continued to shake the south.

A suicide car bomber Thursday struck a NATO convoy outside Kandahar, killing at least three civilians and injuring nine. The powerful explosion carved a large crater in the road leading to the civilian airport and the south's main Western air base.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization force also reported the deaths of two service members in the south, without providing details. A major military push by Afghan and Western forces is underway in and around Kandahar, but military officials declined to say whether the latest deaths were associated with that fighting.

In the capital, Kabul, meanwhile, officials reported more suspected fraud in Sept. 18 parliamentary elections. In the wake of last year's tainted presidential vote, the parliamentary balloting was meant to showcase the country's ability to hold a reasonably fair election.

Votes have been counted in nearly two-thirds of the country's 34 provinces, but with thousands of complaints pending, a final tally is not expected until the end of October.

Linguists uncover 'hidden' language in north India
A previously unknown language has been uncovered in the far reaches of northeastern India, researchers reported Tuesday.

Koro, a tongue brand-new to the scientific world that is spoken by just 800 to 1,200 people, could soon face extinction as younger speakers abandon it for more widely used languages such as Hindi or English.

Koro is unlike any language in the various branches of the Tibeto-Burman family, a collection of 400 related languages used by peoples across Asia, according to the two National Geographic fellows who announced the discovery. The findings will be published in the journal Indian Linguistics.

The researchers, linguists K. David Harrison of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and Gregory D.S. Anderson, director of the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages in Salem, Ore., said they are not sure yet how old Koro is or how it developed. But they believe it could yield a wealth of knowledge about the way humans develop and use language. The speakers of Koro had remained invisible to outside observers because their bright red garments, the rice beer they made and other details of their lives seemed no different from that of the speakers of Aka, the socially dominant language in the region, Harrison said.

"There's a sort of a cultural invisibility; they're culturally identical in what they wear, what they eat, the houses they live in.... They just happen to have a different word for everything," Harrison said.

Koro also blends in because its speakers frequently marry Aka speakers (who number 4,000 to 6,000) and people who use another tongue, Miji (who number 6,000 to 8,000). And because the villages had been largely cut off from the outside world for so long, the languages in the region remain poorly studied.

"I expect that there are many such hidden languages around the world," said M. Paul Lewis, who edited the 16th edition of "Ethnologue: Languages of the World;" he was not affiliated with the work. "The lesser-known languages quite often are overlooked and understudied."

Anderson and Harrison, along with Indian colleague Ganesh Murmu, came across Koro by chance in 2008. They previously had identified the area in Arunachal Pradesh state as a hot spot of language diversity. After obtaining a permit to visit the area, they rode for two days into the Himalayan foothills and then crossed a river on a bamboo raft to get to the remotest of the villages.

The researchers had been told about the so-called dialect of Aka. But when they sat down to record the words of a villager they assumed to be speaking it, they were surprised by the unfamiliarity of the words and could tell this was no mere dialect.

"We noticed it instantly," Anderson said. "We started with a body-part word list, and there wasn't a single word in common." After further study, they realized that Koro was not only a language in its own right, but one as different from Aka as English is from Russian.

The linguists say there are still many mysteries they hope to unravel, such as why the speakers don't seem to notice how vastly different their languages are, and how the Koro speakers, who seem to blend in with Aka speakers in every other way, have managed to preserve their distinct language for so long.

The answers, said the linguists, are probably related to the community's relative isolation from the rest of the world.

Now globalization is ending that isolation, and it may end Koro's existence, too. In many families, the parents speak Koro while the children speak Hindi, the politically dominant language in India. Few Koro speakers are younger than 20.

The announcement comes in the same year that India lost the last speaker of Bo, one of the world's oldest languages.

The endangerment of languages such as Koro threatens more than a loss to history, anthropology and human cognitive studies, Harrison said. Speakers in remote regions that contain rich ecological diversity hold knowledge as yet untapped by science.

"They've learned to live sustainably in harsh environments. The knowledge they have about the medicinal use of plants is uniquely encoded in a way that cannot be translated," he said.

Saudi Prince hitting his servant,Video

Prince Saud Bin Abdulaziz Bin Nasir Al Saud had a long standing abusive relationship with Bandar Abdulaziz which culminated in the latter’s death in February this year, it was claimed.
Details of the pair’s allegedly tempestuous physical and emotional relationship were disclosed on the first day of the royal murder trial at the Old Bailey. Footage of the prince pouncing on Mr Abdulaziz, striking him with a volley of punches and kicks in a lift at the five-star Landmark Hotel in Marylebone, central London, was shown to the court.Three weeks later, on February 15 this year, Mr Abdulaziz’s lifeless battered body was found in the prince’s bed.
Jonathan Laidlaw QC, prosecuting, said Prince Saud had “sought to lie and to mislead” to try and cover up his ferocious crime.

Presidential seal falls off Barack Obama's lectern

Barack Obama has made light of a "lectern malfunction", telling his audience "all of you know who I am" after his presidential seal clattered to the floor.

The president of the United States had been delivering a speech to an audience of women at Fortune magazine's "Most Powerful Women Summit" on Tuesday night at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

"I'm sure there's somebody back there that's really nervous right now, don't you think?" Mr Obama joked about the staff member who had hung the seal on the front of his lectern so precariously.

"They're sweating bullets," he said, laughing before resuming his lecture once the laughter had died down.

Afghan women need opportunities

There is a crucial need for a long-term plan for Afghanistan — one that is inclusive of all groups within the society. Any development or nation-building process would prove to be incomplete if it excludes any given segment.
Women need to be armed with the necessary tools if they are to become engaged citizens — which includes good education, proper health care, and an array of job opportunities. It is true that there are many social restraints on the development of women in Afghan society. But this should not deter policy-makers from pushing to enable women as active citizens.
According to United Nations statistics for 2008, the female adult literacy rate (as a percentage of male) for example, stood at 29 per cent. Such numbers indicate a bleak outlook as the development process cannot afford to ignore this fact. Yet in order to address this matter, a consistent and vigorous approach is required.
This could be seen in the progress in some areas such as the increase in the percentage of girls in the school population from zero per cent in 2001 to 37 per cent in 2007. And this should become a standard followed across the country.

Pakistan Businesses Need More Than Dollars

Pakistan’s power looms are still turning, sewing machines are still stitching as the country continues to turn out textiles that had been providing a livelihood for more than 10 million farming families and accounting for almost 40 percent of its industrial employment.

But the massive floods that wiped out thousands of farms have curtailed the raw cotton supply. Expectations are that the reduced raw material could lead to a 30% reduction in the production of bed sheets, clothes and other goods that are sent to consumers around the world.

Pakistan has been receiving millions of dollars in international aid following the floods, however Aftab Ahmed, the Secretary General of the Pakistan Textile Exporters Association says it is not cash that is needed in this case.

Ahmed said "Immediate help not in cash but in trade. The European countries, the USA, they can help us out with granting immediate market access and duty free concession to our exportable goods."

But the economic slowdown in Europe and America poses a problem. The European Union has agreed to some tariff cuts on Pakistani goods, but they are temporary. In the United States, there is a move in the legislature to create what are called “reconstruction opportunity zones” in Pakistan. These would provide lower tariffs and trade preferences in Pakistan’s violence ridden northwest. But that would do little to help the textile industry, which is centered in Pakistan’s southern regions. Even that legislation is stalled in the US Senate as the US unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent. Such proposals are also drawing opposition from the American textile and apparel industries, which have reportedly lost more than a third of their workforce since 2004.

Pakistani business leaders, like Chudry Waheed Raamay of the council of Loom Owners in the Pakistani city of Faisalabad, say it is particularly galling in light of his country’s cooperation with the US in routing out militants. Raamay reasoned "Pakistan deserves more because we are the ally of America in the war against terror and we have lost billions of rupees and thousands of lives in this war and this is the time when they should support our economy."

Other Pakistani business leaders say continuing violence in their country is simply bad for business.

Karzai’s Kin Use Ties to Gain Power in Afghanistan

New York Time:

Until recently, Taj Ayubi’s specialty was retail. Mr. Ayubi, an Afghan immigrant, ran a furniture store in Leesburg, Va., and before that, a thrift shop in Washington.

But today, Mr. Ayubi’s specialty is foreign policy. He is the senior foreign affairs adviser to the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.

Among Mr. Ayubi’s qualifications for his post in Kabul are ties to President Karzai’s extended family. His sister is married to a Karzai, and her sons are now important junior members of the growing Karzai family network in Afghanistan.

In recent years, dozens of Karzai family members and close allies have taken government jobs, pursued business interests or worked as contractors to the United States government, allowing them to shape policy or financially benefit from it.

While the roles played by two of President Karzai’s brothers — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the power broker of Kandahar, and Mahmoud Karzai, a prominent businessman and investor in the troubled Kabul Bank — have been well documented, the extensive web of other family members has not previously been reported. Most of them lived in the United States before going to Afghanistan, leveraging the president’s position to put them at the center of a new oligarchy of powerful Afghan families.

One of President Karzai’s nephews is a top official in the intelligence service, giving him authority over some of Afghanistan’s most sensitive security operations. A brother of the president is an official in the agency that issues licenses required for all Afghan corporations; an uncle is now ambassador to Russia.

At least six Karzai relatives, including one who just ran for Parliament, operate or are linked to contracting businesses that collect millions of dollars annually from the American government.

Other brothers, cousins, nephews and in-laws wield influence in Kabul and the family’s native Kandahar, through government posts or businesses like trucking and real estate development.

The family’s expanding presence serves both to strengthen and to undermine President Karzai, according to American and Afghan officials. Corruption allegations taint his government, and Afghans routinely accuse him of turning a blind eye to the activities of some of his relatives. They include Ahmed Wali Karzai, who denies repeated accusations of ties to the drug trade, and Mahmoud Karzai, whose business dealings are under investigation by American prosecutors.

A Survival Mechanism

But even if the extended clan fosters resentment in Afghanistan, the family also helps fortify a fragile presidency.

Ronald E. Neumann, the United States ambassador to Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007, said he believed that President Karzai intended to create a support network that could help him survive after the withdrawal of American troops, the same way that another Afghan president, Najibullah, survived for years after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989.

“Karzai is convinced that we are going to abandon him,” Mr. Neumann said. “What’s his answer? To create a web of loyalties and militia commanders and corrupt families all knitted together.”

“This network,” he added, “is part of his survival mechanism.”

Mahmoud Karzai defended his family, saying the Karzais worked hard — and honestly — to help Afghanistan. “You need people like us,” he said in an interview. “It’s very difficult to get qualified people to come here, and work here. We can’t build this country unless there are people willing to take the risk.”

American officials say the Karzais and a handful of other well-connected families have benefited from the billions of dollars that the United States has poured into the country since 2001. That money has helped pay the salaries of some Karzais who are government employees, kick-started real estate development and construction projects involving family members and created demand for businesses tied to the Karzais.

“Family politics is part of the culture of this part of the world,” said Ahmed Rashid, a Pakistani author who has written extensively about Afghanistan. “Right now, Afghanistan is going through a phase of very primitive capital accumulation by the country’s leading families.”

Still, many relatives are hedging their bets against the decline and fall of the Karzai government, keeping their own families and homes outside of Afghanistan, either in the United States, in Dubai or elsewhere, several relatives said in interviews.

And some are increasingly critical of their kin, complaining that their rush back to Afghanistan to stake a claim has been unseemly. As more Karzais have gained prominence in Afghanistan over the last few years, some relatives have privately begun to point fingers at one another for trading too heavily on their connections to President Karzai, and accuse others of excessive political ambition and insider dealing.

“The Karzais are over there in Afghanistan cashing in on their last name,” said Mohammad Karzai, a cousin of President Karzai who lives in Maryland. “My relatives have told me they can’t understand why I don’t come over with them and get rich.”

Rising Fortunes

It is hard to quantify how the Karzais may have prospered from their proximity to power. But some appear to have significantly improved their circumstances.

Before 2001, Yama Karzai, a nephew of the president, was living with his brothers in Quetta, Pakistan, and receiving financial support from relatives in the United States, Mohammad Karzai said. Today, Yama Karzai is a top Afghan intelligence official and owns a house in Virginia, according to land records. He did not respond to inquiries from The New York Times.

Hashim Karzai, a cousin of President Karzai, now works as a consultant to Pamir Airways, an airline based in Kabul that has been controlled by one of Mahmoud Karzai’s business partners, and lives in Dubai on one of the luxurious Palm Islands. In August, he rented the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, one block from the White House, for his son’s wedding to a niece of President Karzai, according to Qayum Karzai, the bride’s father and the president’s brother.

And Mahmoud Karzai, widely considered to be the most well-connected business leader in Afghanistan, said a residential real estate project he has been developing in Kandahar was now worth $900 million, including the value of homes sold. The original five partners, including Mr. Karzai, started with an investment of $4 million, he said. The Kandahar project set off a bitter dispute with the Afghan Army, which claims ownership of the land used for the project.

One Afghan Parliament member said family members exploited their connections to get in on favorable business ventures. “They have carte blanche to be partners with anyone they want to; it’s the unwritten law,” said the official, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “Anyone who wants to start a business and has problems becomes partners with them.”

Before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, many members of the extended Karzai family were quietly building new lives as American immigrants, and the family’s center of gravity had shifted from war-ravaged Kandahar to the Maryland suburbs of Washington, where many of them settled in the 1970s and ’80s.

Of the seven sons of Abdul Ahad Karzai, a prominent Kandahar politician who lived in exile in Quetta, Pakistan, until his 1999 assassination by the Taliban, only one — Hamid Karzai — had never lived in the United States. By 2001, a generation of Karzais who had grown up in the United States and knew little of Afghanistan was emerging.

But after the American-led invasion of Afghanistan ousted the Taliban in 2001 and lifted Hamid Karzai from obscurity to the presidency, the family’s migration pattern reversed. Only one of his brothers, Abdul Wali Karzai, a biochemistry professor at Stony Brook University in New York, declined to go back home. Many others seized the opportunity.

The Obama administration’s attitude toward the Karzais has been deeply ambivalent. The White House has sent mixed signals about whether to investigate or tolerate reports of corruption of those around the president. While federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Mahmoud Karzai’s business dealings, no inquiry has been opened into Ahmed Wali Karzai even though many United States officials have said they suspect that he benefits from drug trafficking.

Abdul Wali Karzai, the Stony Brook professor, said that his family had been unfairly attacked, but that the second-guessing of everything the Karzais did in Afghanistan explained his refusal to join his brothers. “The way the Afghan society is structured,” he said, “anything I do would be subjected to all kinds of rumors and false stories.”

Power Behind the Scenes

Some family members have had lower profiles than the three better-known brothers. Qayum Karzai, for example, served as a member of Parliament from Kandahar and then as President Karzai’s intermediary with the Taliban, while continuing to own three restaurants in Baltimore. Today, he talks of opening a university in Afghanistan. An Afghan business leader said Qayum Karzai had been a behind-the-scenes force in Kabul’s politics.

“Qayum is the interlocutor for the president with other political players in Afghanistan, and with foreign powers,” said the businessman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared the consequences of talking publicly about the president’s family. “He is a sounding board.”

Shahwali Karzai, another brother, lives in Ahmed Wali Karzai’s compound in Kandahar, where he runs his own engineering consulting firm and Mahmoud’s real estate project. Abdul Ahmad Karzai, who worked at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport before his brother became president, now works for the Afghanistan Investment Support Agency, which issues corporate licenses.

Ahsan Karzi and Zabeh Karzi, younger cousins of the president who grew up in Los Angeles, now own a trucking company in Kandahar that has contracts with the United States military, according to Mahmoud Karzai.

Two other cousins, Rateb Popal and his brother Rashid Popal, own a security company that has contracts with the American military. Ajmal Popal, the son of Abdullah Popal, a former mayor of Kandahar and a Karzai relative, works for a company that has contracts with the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

With so many Karzais flooding back into the country, tensions and rivalries have emerged among them, according to several family members. Rateb Popal, for example, has been feuding with Mahmoud Karzai, and in interviews, Mr. Popal, who served a prison sentence in New York on drug-related charges in the 1990s, accused Mahmoud Karzai and the president of undermining his business deals.

“I haven’t had a good relationship with Hamid from the beginning,” Rateb Popal said.

And Hekmat Karzai, a cousin who now runs a research organization in Kabul, recently irritated President Karzai. After the president denied reports earlier this year that he had secretly met with an insurgent leader, Hekmat Karzai gave a television interview in which he indirectly confirmed the supposed meeting, according to Qayum Karzai.

Qayum Karzai said the criticism of the family was unfair, adding that it had taken an emotional toll. “We have been on the political scene in Afghanistan for more than 100 years, and never has our name been mentioned with narcotics or wheeling or dealing,” he said. “We have always been identified with the moderate traditions of Afghanistan. So this is very heartbreaking to every family member.”

Afghanistan War enters its 10th year!!!

Afghanistan enters its 10th year of war Thursday with key players hedging their bets, uncertain whether the Obama administration is prepared to stay for the long haul, move quickly to exit an increasingly unpopular conflict, or something in between.

Fearing that his Western allies may in the end abandon him, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has started to prepare his nation for a withdrawal of international forces by shoring up relations with neighboring Pakistan and reaching out to insurgents interested in reconciliation.

Pakistan, America's nominal ally, says it's fighting insurgents. But it still tolerates al-Qaida and Afghan Taliban militants hiding out on its soil — out of reach of U.S.-led NATO ground forces.

There have been other important junctures, but this ninth anniversary is proving decisive. It's go-for-broke time in Afghanistan.

Public support for the war is slipping in the United States and Western Europe. Already, the Netherlands has pulled out its troops, the first NATO country to do so. The Canadians leave next.

Patience is running out here as well. Afghans are tired of the violence, increasingly resentful of foreign forces. Many wonder why their quality of life has not markedly improved when their nation has been awash in billions of dollars of foreign aid.

"NATO is here and they say they are fighting terrorism, and this is the 10th year and there is no result yet," Karzai said in an emotional speech last week. "Our sons cannot go to school because of bombs and suicide attacks."

All this is very different from the near universal international support the Bush administration enjoyed when it launched attacks on Oct. 7, 2001. The war was aimed at toppling the Taliban from power because they harbored Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders responsible for the stunning strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon less than a month earlier.

The hardline Islamic regime, which repressed women, banned music and held public executions for disloyal actions, collapsed within two months.

But looking back at the first years of the war, the effort was underfunded from the start. When the Bush administration's attention shifted to Iraq in 2003, the Taliban began to regroup. After several years of relative calm and safety, the situation in Afghanistan began to deteriorate around 2006. The Taliban have steadily gained strength since then. And bin Laden remains alive.

President Barack Obama ramped up the war this year, sending tens of thousands more troops. Casualties are running at their highest levels since 2001, when the Taliban were overthrown without a single American combat death. The U.S. death toll in July was 66, setting a monthly record; to date, about 2,000 NATO troops have died in the conflict, including more than 1,220 American service men and women.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in June that the U.S. and its NATO partners have to show progress before the end of this year or face a decline in public support for the war.

There's plenty of frustration at the White House and in the U.S. Congress too. In August, when Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited Kabul, he bluntly stated that if the Karzai government didn't clean up corruption, it was going to be hard "to look American families in the eye and say, `Hey that's something worth dying for.'"

On the battlefield, NATO's top commander, Gen. David Petraeus, is banking on his plan to protect heavily populated areas, rout the Taliban from their strongholds and rush in better governance and development aid to win the Afghans' loyalty away from the Taliban.

In February, NATO launched an offensive in Helmand province, the largest military operation in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion. Nearly eight months after U.S. forces mounted a high-profile assault that ended Taliban control of the rural town of Marjah, U.S. Marines there are still clearing it. There are signs that governance is improving, though troops still face daily gunbattles and an entrenched insurgency that shows no signs of easing soon.

Afghan and international forces now are ramping up security in neighboring Kandahar province where the Taliban insurgency was born. Fighting in and around the nation's largest city in the south has been intense as coalition forces push into areas long held by insurgents. Failure in Kandahar would be a major setback for the NATO force.

"We're still fighting the fight," U.S. Army Capt. Nick Stout, a company commander with the 101st Airborne Division's 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, said in Senjeray, capital of Zhari district northeast of Kandahar city.

"It kind of begs the question: What is it? What's the answer?" he said at a joint U.S.-Afghan outpost near Kandahar.