Image: Pfc. Michael Huffman
Chris Hondros  /  Getty Images
Pfc. Michael Huffman, right, of the the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division wades through a creek while on patrol west of Kandahar, Afghanistan, Oct. 16 .
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 10/21/2010 7:41:24 AM ET 2010-10-21T11:41:24

Coalition forces are routing the Taliban in Kandahar province, forcing its fighters to abandon bases they've held for years, Afghan officials say.

Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother of Afghan president Hamid Karzai, told The Associated Press late Wednesday that he believed most of the insurgents had left before NATO and Afghan forces began an operation to wrest control of the province in July.

He said other fighters had been arrested or killed and there was not a single Taliban base left in Kandahar. That claim could not be verified, The Associated Press reported.

Karzai, who heads a provincial council in Kandahar, said government officials were moving in to set up institutions in areas cleared of Taliban by security forces.

Improving residents' quality of life is seen as crucial to winning their long-term support.

The apparent military success comes amid a new diplomatic push for peace with talks between leading Taliban figures and the Afghan government. The New York Times reported Wednesday that NATO had flown some Taliban officials to the talks, although the U.S. government has stressed it is not involved.

At a press conference in Kabul Thursday, a spokesman for Afghanistan's high peace and reconciliation committee refused to confirm or deny NATO's involvement in transporting Taliban leaders to the talks, saying any disclosure might jeopardize the process.

He also refused to comment on an unconfirmed report that Mullah Baradar, previously the Taliban's overall military commander who was arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, in February, was involved in the talks.

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Meanwhile, many hardened fighters have fled strongholds held by the Taliban for years, The New York Times reported Thursday.

"We now have the initiative. We have created momentum," Maj. Gen. Nick Carter, the British commander of the NATO coalition forces in southern Afghanistan who has overseen the Kandahar operation for the last year, told the newspaper. "It is everything put together in terms of the effort that has gone in over the last 18 months and it is undoubtedly having an impact."

Large numbers of American and Afghan government troops have been sent to Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, in recent months.

"Afghans will tell you, if you have a peaceful Kandahar, you will have a peaceful Afghanistan,"  Carter told the Times.

However he added "only time will tell" as to the ultimate success of the operation, which began in August when Afghan forces began to clear Mehlajat on the southern outskirts of Kandahar city, the newspaper said.

U.S. troops then moved in from the north, into the rural district of Arghandab. Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division moved into the Zhare district in the southwest, where the Times said they encountered strong resistance at first.

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The Taliban had created a fortified redoubt of command posts and mined areas in an area called the horn of Panjwai over the last four years, the Times reported.

Last weekend, an airborne assault was mounted by a combined Afghan-U.S. force which the Times said had surprised the Taliban in its intensity.

The paper, citing NATO commanders, local people and the Taliban itself, said many Taliban commanders had fled to Pakistan and most of the fighters had also gone away or hidden their weapons.

New rocket
Local people said the Taliban had been shocked by the attacks and, in particular, the use of a new rocket introduced in the last two or three weeks, the Times said.

Carter told the paper this was probably a Himar or High Mobility Artillery Rocket. "They are extraordinarily precise; they are accurate to a meter," he said.

Lt. Col. Rodger Lemons, the commander of Task Force 1-66 in Arghandab, told the Times that insurgent attacks had fallen from 50 a week in August to 15 a week in October, although the colder weather may be playing a part.

Lemons said he felt Taliban militants were losing heart. "A lot are getting killed," he told the Times. "They are not receiving support from the local population, they are complaining that the local people are not burying their dead, and they are saying: 'We are losing so many we want to go back home.'"

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A Taliban fighter who spoke to the Times by telephone on condition that he would not be named, said the insurgents had pulled back but would try to return later.

"We are not there anymore, we are not preparing to fight a big battle, but we are waiting," he said. "We are waiting until this force has been exhausted and has done all they are supposed to do, and later on our fighters will re-enter the area."

However, a senior Afghan police officer was jubilant.

"We broke their neck," Hajji Niaz Muhammad, the police chief in the Arghandab District, told the Times. "There is no doubt they are very weak in this area now."

However, the coalition's experience in the former Taliban stronghold of Marjah offers a cautionary tale.

The southern Afghan town was seized from the Taliban eight months ago, but coalition forces are still trying to clear the town.

Years of Taliban control may have ended in Marjah, but the Taliban never left — they simply went underground, blending in among civilians, taking advantage of the region's terrain of agricultural fields and irrigation trenches to stage daily ambushes of American patrols.

The Marines have found bloody clothes and spent bullet casings and bombs meant to kill them. They've heard bullets flying overhead and seen muzzle flashes in tree lines. But finding insurgents is another story altogether.

"The only time we see them is when we're in contact" in a gunfight, Cpl. Chuck Martin, 24, of Middletown, R.I, was quoted by The Associated Press in an article Tuesday.

The Associated Press and NBC News contributed to this report.

Photos: 2013

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  1. Afghan youths light candles in front of the destroyed palace of Darul Aman to mark the killing of civilians by the communist regime during the Russian occupation, in Kabul on Sept. 29, 2013. Afghanistan held two days of mourning to mark the deaths of 5,000 people killed under the communist regime in 1970s. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. NATO soldiers take cover behind an armored vehicle as they defuse explosive materials recovered during an operation in Ghazni, on Sept. 20. (Naweed Haqjoo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Miners carry the body of one of their colleagues following a mine collapse in Ruyi Du Ab district on Sept. 16. The coal mine in a remote area of Samangan province caved in after a gas explosion on Sept. 14, and at least 28 miners were confirmed dead, officials said. (Farshad Usyan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A boy runs on Sept. 15 near a massive compound that ex-jihadist warlord Haji Mohammad Almas Zahid is building in the fields of Parwan province. The complex is known to villagers as "The Palace." (Wakil Kohsar / for NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Afghan security officials take positions during a gunbattle with suspected militants outside the US consulate in Herat on Sept. 13. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack. (Jalil Rezayee / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Soccer fans celebrate after Afghanistan's national team won the South Asian Football Federation championship, in Kabul on Sept. 12. President Hamid Karzai embraced Afghanistan's victorious team after they united the nation in a rare moment of shared joy, but officials also told jubilant Afghans to stop firing guns into the air in celebration. The team beat India 2-0 to win the championship in Kathmandu, Afghanistan's first international soccer title, sending tens of thousands of joyous Afghans into the streets. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Afghan security forces arrive at the site of a suicide attack in Maidan Shar, the capital of Wardak province, on Sept. 8. At least four Afghan intelligence agents were killed and more than one hundred people were wounded, the provincial government said. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A farmer works on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif on Sept. 5. Only about 15 percent of Afghanistan's land, mostly in scattered valleys, is suitable for farming with about 6 percent of the land actually cultivated. (Farshad Usyan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Children climb on a fence as they sell tea in Kabul on Sept. 4. A tea vendor earns an average of $1 a day. (Mohammad Ismail / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Men stand near a destroyed car after floods in the Shakar Dara district of Kabul on Aug. 11. At least 22 people were killed and farmland was damaged when flash floods hit a plain near the capital, officials said. (Mohammad Ismail / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A man washes his horse in Kabul on Aug. 4. (Mohammad Ismail / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Afghan security officials at the scene of a bomb blast in Jalalabad on Aug. 4. A remote-controlled bomb targeting the vehicle carrying state prosecutor Abdul Qayoom went off, injuring Qayoom along with 16 others. (Abdul Mueed / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Men swim in a public pool in Herat on July 20. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Men eat and drink tea in an old restaurant ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in Kabul on July 7. Throughout the month, devout Muslims must abstain from food and drink from dawn until sunset when they break the fast with the Iftar meal. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Afghanistan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk with an arrested Taliban fighter, center, at an army station on the outskirts of Jalalabad on July 7. Three Taliban fighters were killed and one arrested after they attacked a police checkpoint on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway, officials said. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Afghan men shout slogans in support of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in Kabul on July 5. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Afghan security forces arrive following a suicide bombing in Kabul on July 2. Militants blew up a suicide car bomb at the gate to a NATO compound in Kabul and attacked guards with small-arms fire, killing four guards and two civilians, police said. All four suicide attackers were also killed. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A would-be suicide attacker lies on the ground after his vest was defused in Jalalabad province on June 30. Afghan security forces captured the man before he blew himself up. (Parwiz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A policeman keeps watch as two schoolgirls walk near the entrance of the presidential palace in Kabul on June 25. Taliban militants targeted the presidential palace, detonating two vehicles at an entrance to the complex. (Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Afghans chant anti-government slogans after burning a truck believed to be owned by foreigners during a demonstration in Kabul on June 24. The protest centered around government plans to develop a subdivision in the capital on land that has long been occupied by squatters. Demonstrators blocked two main roads out of the city, and said they would continue their protests until the government gave them somewhere else to live. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A Taliban flag is visible through a gap in a wall of the new office of the Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar, on June 20. The flag and other fanfare surrounding the militants' opening of an office in the Gulf state threatened to derail planned discussions with U.S. officials. (Osama Faisal / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    A wounded man is helped during a car bomb attack in Kabul on June 11. A suicide attack on buses carrying workers from Afghanistan’s Supreme Court killed at least 14 civilians and injured 38 others, police said. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Afghan security forces stand guard at the site of a suicide attack near Kabul military airport on June 10. All seven militants who launched the attack died in the assault, Afghan police said. (Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A girl stands in the doorway of her house in the old sector of Herat on June 5. Over a third of Afghans are living in abject poverty, as those in power are more concerned with addressing their vested interests rather than the basic needs of the population, a UN report said. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. An Afghan security official is surrounded by the shadows of colleagues as he keeps watch at the scene of an attack in Jalalabad late on May 29. Militants launched a two-hour suicide and gun attack on a Red Cross office, killing one guard, officials said. It was the first time that Red Cross offices had been targeted since the organization began work in Afghanistan in 1987. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    A man looks at the dead body of a suicide attacker after he was killed by security personnel in Panjshir province on May 29. Six Taliban insurgents, some wearing suicide vests, attacked the governor's compound in the fiercely anti-Taliban Panjshir valley, killing one policeman, officials say. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Police take cover during a gunbattle following a suicide attack in Kabul on May 24. A suicide bomber struck in the heart of the Afghan capital, sending a plume of smoke billowing over Kabul and setting up a gunbattle in the second major attack in the city in little over a week, police said. (Ahmad Jamshid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Children run away after an explosion in Kabul on May 24. Several large explosions rocked a busy area in the center of the Afghan capital. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Police carry away a wounded person after a suicide bomber struck outside a provincial council headquarters in Pul-i-Khumri, Baghlan province, northern Afghanistan, on May 20. The council chief and 14 others were killed, police said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing, saying the killing of civilians shows the “true nature” of the Taliban. (Jawed Basharat / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Children peer through a fence that surrounds a swimming pool on a hill overlooking Kabul on May 17. The swimming pool built by the Soviets more then 30 years ago has rarely been used. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. U.S. soldiers from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and a Polish soldier, center, carry a dog on a stretcher from a UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopter during a training drill at Forward Operating Base Ghazni on May 17. (Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A U.S. soldier arrives at the scene where a suicide car bomber attacked a NATO convoy in Kabul on May 16. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A woman harvests wheat on the outskirts of Kabul on May 15. Afghans mainly use wheat to feed their animals. (Ahmad Jamshid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Police arrive at the site where a police vehicle was hit by a remote-control bomb in the Kama district of Jalalabad province, east of Kabul, on May 11. The bomb killed and wounded several policemen, a local government spokesman said. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A displaced man fixes his roof as the weather takes a turn for the worse, bringing rain and high winds at a refugee camp in Kabul on May 10. Thousands of Afghans displaced by the war live in slum-like conditions in camps on the edge of the capital. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Farmers collect raw opium as they work in a poppy field in Khogyani district of Jalalabad of May 10. Opium poppy cultivation has been increasing for a third year in a row and is heading for a record high, the U.N. said in a report. Poppy cultivation is also dramatically increasing in areas of the southern Taliban heartland, the report showed, especially in regions where thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops have been withdrawn or are in the process of departing. The report indicates that whatever international efforts have been made to wean local farmers off the crop have failed. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Afghan Army soldiers gather at a military training facility on the outskirts of Kabul on May 8. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A foreign girl pops an ollie on her skateboard as Afghan youths gather for the Sound Central Festival at the French Cultural Center in Kabul on May 2. The Sound Central Festival, now on its second year, is the only event of its kind that takes places in Afghanistan, where music was banned by the Taliban until the end of 2001. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Young men cheer as Afghan and foreign musicians perform during the Sound Central Festival at the French Cultural Center in Kabul on May 1. The concert is part of a cross-cultural program to increase awareness of music and the arts in Afghanistan. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A man visits a wounded relative in the hospital in Kandahar on April 26, after a bus collided with the wreckage of a truck that was attacked by Taliban insurgents in Maiwand district. Scores of people aboard the bus were killed in the fiery crash, officials said. (Allauddin Khan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. A street vendor sells balloons as he walks through the Karte Sakhi cemetery in Kabul on April 26. The cemetery, located at the foot of Kabul's TV Mountain, is located near the Karte Sakhi Shrine, the second most sacred place of Shia worship in the country. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. A woman stands in her home after it was damaged by a powerful earthquake in Charbagh village in Nangarhar province on April 24. Seven people were killed, dozens injured and many homes destroyed when a powerful earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan, officials said. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Police officers from the anti-corruption Shafafiyat unit work on documents at their office in Kabul, April 23. Afghanistan's security forces are routinely accused of murder, rape and corruption on a grand scale, but the anti-corruption police unit's sole conviction last year was a junior policeman who forged some documents, the head of the unit told Reuters. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. U.S. soldiers along with members of Afghan National Army (ANA) march from the Forward Base Honaker Miracle at Watahpur District in Kunar province into the fields on the foot of Operating Post Rocky during a joint patrol led by the ANA to conduct artillery fire training on April 18. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Relatives gather beside the body of Afghan men who were allegedly killed by Iranian soldiers while they were crossing the Afghan-Iran border, outside the Iranian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, April 18. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Iranian Embassy to demonstrate against the alleged killing of the men. (Jalil Rezayee / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. An Afghan woman waits in a changing room to try out a new Burqa, in a shop in the old city of Kabul, April 11. Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the Burqa was infrequently worn in cities. While they were in power, the Taliban required the wearing of a Burqa in public. Officially, it is not required under the present Afghan regime, but local warlords still enforce it in southern Afghanistan. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter arrives at the scene of a NATO helicopter that crashed, killing two American service members in a field near Gerakhel, eastern Afghanistan, April 9. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    The lifeless bodies of Afghan children lay on the ground before their funeral ceremony, after a NATO airstrike killed several Afghan civilians, including ten children during a fierce gun battle with Taliban militants in Shultan, Shigal district, Kunar, eastern Afghanistan, April 7. The U.S.-led coalition confirms that airstrikes were called in by international forces during the Afghan-led operation in a remote area of Kunar province near the Pakistan border. (Naimatullah Karyab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. An Afghan army soldier stands guard in the destroyed courthouse in Farah, western Afghanistan, April 4. Suicide bombers disguised as Afghan soldiers stormed a courthouse in a failed bid to free more than a dozen Taliban prisoners. Dozens of people, including the nine attackers were reported killed in the fighting. The assault in Farah province was the latest example of the Taliban's ability to strike official institutions despite tight security measures. (Hoshang Hashimi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. An Afghan policeman offers evening prayers on a hill overlooking Kabul, March 31. (Ahmad Jamshid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Afghan elders attend a meeting hours after their villages were raided by a combined force of roughly 1,250 Afghans and 175 Americans on March 26. U.S. Brigade commander Col. Joseph "J.P." McGee listens with his U.S. translator, standing, and the Afghan police and army commanders in Khogyani district, Nangarhar province. (Kim Dozier / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, shakes hands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, right, as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham looks on at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on March 25. Kerry landed in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit, with relations badly frayed by Kabul's recent hostility to U.S.-led military efforts in the country. (Jason Reed / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. An Afghan prisoner leaves with his belongings from the Parwan Detention Facility after the U.S. military gave control of the last detention facility to Afghan authorities in Bagram, outside Kabul, March 25. The handover of Parwan Detention Facility ends a bitter chapter in American relations with President Hamid Karzai, who demanded control of the prison as a matter of national sovereignty. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Afghan men peer through the former window of their destroyed school in the village of Budyali, Nangarhar province, March 19. Taliban militants attacked the nearby district headquarters in July 2011, then took refuge in the school. The Afghan National Army requested help from coalition forces, who responded with drones, fighter jets and rockets, leaving the school destroyed, according to village elders. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Afghan boys study at a makeshift school in the village of Budyali, Nengarhar Province, March 19. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. Men in Kabul chant "U.S. special operations forces out!" as several hundred demonstrators march to the Afghan parliament building to protest the continued presence of U.S. commandos in Wardak province, March 16. The demonstrators are demanding the release of nine local citizens they believe were detained by the U.S. forces. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. An Afghan military officer falls asleep as he attends a graduation ceremony at the National Military Academy in Kabul on March 13. NATO is aiming to train 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police by the end of 2014 to ensure stability in Afghanistan, but challenges remain. Analysts have warned the country could plunge into another large-scale civil war after the NATO-led force departs by 2015. (Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel steps aboard a C-17 military aircraft in Kabul as he prepares to return to Washington on March 11. Hagel ended his three day visit to Afghanistan, his first as Secretary of Defense. (Jason Reed / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Sher Khan Farnoud, former Chairman of Kabul Bank, attends a hearing at a court in Kabul, March 5. Khalilullah Ferozi the former CEO and Sher Khan Farnoud the former Chairman of Kabul bank were sentenced to five years in jail by a special court in Kabul for their involvement in embezzlement of millions of dollars during their tenure as CEO and Chairman. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Afghan Hazara and visiting foreign skiers set off at the start of the Afghan Ski Challenge in the Shahidan Valley of Bamiyan province, March 1. Seventeen Afghans and twelve foreigners participated in the third annual Afghan Ski Challenge in Bamiyan during which the Afghan Hazara men won the first three positions. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. An Afghan soldier walks by a damaged bus following a suicide attack in Kabul, Feb. 27. A man wearing a black overcoat and carrying an umbrella as a shelter against the heavy snow crossed a street in the Afghan capital early Wednesday morning toward an idling bus filled with Afghan soldiers, where he laid down and wiggled underneath. Then he exploded, engulfing the undercarriage of the bus in flames. (Musadeq Sadeq / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. More than five hundred men marched through the capital of Afghanistan's restive Wardak province on Feb. 26 in an outburst of anger against U.S. special forces accused of overseeing torture and killings in the area. A U.S. defense official in Washington said a review in recent months, in cooperation with Afghanistan's Defence Ministry and National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence agency, found no involvement of Western forces in any abuse. (Mirwais Harooni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Jawanmard Paiz, left and Fawad Mohammadi, stars of the Oscar-Nominated movie 'Buzkashi Boys,' arrive on the red carpet for the 85th Annual Academy Awards, Feb. 24 in Hollywood, Calif. (Joe Klamar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. Students study at a dormitory of Nangarhar University on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Feb. 23. Fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan consumes most of the country's resources and rebuilding the educational system is not a political priority. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Former Taliban militants attend a ceremony with the Afghan government after handing over their weapons in Herat, Feb. 17. About 35 former Taliban militants from Herat province handed over their weapons as part of a peace-reconciliation program. (Hoshang Hoshimi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. Afghan National Army officers shake hands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, during a conference at the National Miltary Academy in Kabul on Feb. 16. Afghanistan has committed to taking full responsibility for its own security after U.S. forces leave, and the White House said Afghan security forces now number 352,000 troops, thanks to a broad NATO training effort. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. A female member of Afghan special forces aims her pistol during a training exercise on the outskirts of Kabul, Jan. 14. Afghanistan's army is training female special forces to take part in night raids against insurgents despite cultural taboos, as foreign combat troops recede ahead of their eventual departure. In a country where women traditionally are expected to stay home, their participation in the special forces is breaking new ground in ultraconservative Afghanistan. (Musadeq Sadeq / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. A wounded Afghan boy receives treatment at a hospital in Kunar province on Feb. 13. A NATO air strike killed 10 civilians, mostly women and children, in a raid on a Taliban hideout in a remote region of eastern Afghanistan, local officials said. "Five children, four women and a man were killed in the raid," Kunar provincial governor, Sayed Fazulullah Wahidi, told AFP. (Namatullah Karyab / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  69. A model presents a traditional Afghan dress at a fashion show, launched by Young Women for Change (YWC), in Kabul, Feb. 8. The YWC organization is made up of volunteers across Afghanistan, who organize events to help empower Afghan women and improve their lives through social and economic participation. The creations at the fashion show are designed by Afghan women. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  70. Afghan men chant for justice and punishment for kidnapping gangs involved in the killing of a boy during a demonstration in Herat on Feb. 2. Thousands of Afghan men and women gathered to protest the killing. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  71. A member of the Afghan National Army provides security with a soldier from the U.S. Army's Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment during a patrol near Command Outpost AJK (short for Azim-Jan-Kariz, a near-by village) in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Jan. 31. (Andrew Burton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  72. Afghan school children study at an open classroom in the outskirts of Jalalabad, Jan. 30. Afghanistan has had only rare moments of peace over the past 30 years, its education system was undermined by the Soviet invasion of 1979, a civil war in the 1990s and five years of Taliban rule. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  73. Afghan security forces run on the roof of the Kabul traffic police headquarters as it is attacked by insurgents in Kabul, Jan. 21. A coordinated attack involving at least three suicide bombers and a powerful car bomb took aim at the headquarters, followed by a clash between at least one insurgent and security forces. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  74. A soldier from 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry surfs the internet during down time at Strong Point DeMaiwand, Maywand District, Kandahar Province, Jan. 20. (Andrew Burton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  75. An Afghan midwife attends her graduation ceremony at the governor's house, in Jalalabad, Jan. 16. Over 52 midwives graduated after receiving 2 years of training. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  76. A man who was injured in a suicide bomb attack targeting the office of the Afghan Intelligence agency, leaves the scene, in Kabul, Jan. 16. Six Taliban suicide bombers attacked Afghanistan's National Security Directorate office in downtown Kabul, injuring more than 30 people, most of whom were civilians, police said. One of the bombers exploded himself at the gate and rest were killed by the Afghan security forces before they would enter. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  77. President of Pentagon Memorial Fund James Laychak touches the banch of his brother David Laychak as he and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, left, accompany Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a visit to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, Jan. 10, in Arlington, Virginia. Karzai made a visit to Washington, where he met with President Barack Obama at the White House, to discuss the continued transition in Afghanistan and the partnership between the two nations. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  78. Governor of the Afghan province of Nangarhar, Gul Agha Sherzai, right, shakes hands with former Afghan prisoners during a ceremony in Jalalabad on Jan. 3, after their release from Bagram Prison. Some twenty prisoners, who had been accused of working with the Taliban, were released. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  79. An Afghan man poses for a portrait at a refugee camp in Herat on Jan. 2, 2013. Hundreds of families living in makeshift shelters around the Afghan capital Kabul collected blankets, charcoal and other supplies on Jan. 2 as authorities struggle to avoid last year's deadly winter toll. With temperatures dropping to -10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) at night in the city, the 35,000 refugees who live in the snow-covered camps face a battle to survive dire conditions protected only by plastic sheeting. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  80. NATO troops from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) participate in celebrations on New Year's Eve in Kabul on Dec. 31, 2012. Thousands of NATO troops across Afghanistan celebrated the new year away from their homes. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (80) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2013
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    Slideshow (139) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2012
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    Slideshow (234) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2011
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    Slideshow (158) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2010
  5. Image: U.S. army soldiers from Task Force Denali 1-40 Cav reposition a 105mm Howitzer during snowfall at FOB Wilderness in Paktya province
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    Slideshow (88) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2009: Troops
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    Slideshow (31) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2009: Civilians

Video: Can talks bring Afghan peace?

  1. Closed captioning of: Can talks bring Afghan peace?

    >>> today and yesterday and just the last two days, 14 nato troops have been killed in avgs six killed yesterday, eight more killed today in five separate attacks. while violence is ramping up, efforts to end the war are taking some really dramatic turns. in addition to fighting the taliban on the increasingly deadly battlefields of afghanistan , u.s.-led forces there are also now, quote, permitting the movement of senior taliban leaders to attend initial peace talks in kabul. think about that for a second. mine everybody has admitted far while that the war will end in afghanistan the way most wars end, through talking, through negotiation. general petraeus late last month started prepping the u.s. public for that when he started you lining the conditions. he said, quote, this is how you end these kinds of insurgencies. it's understandable enough in theory. these things end by talking. but in practice, it is harder to fathom. u.s. forces knowing who senior taliban leaders are, knowing where they are, and knowingly letting them pass safely on their way to kabul and then presumably back home against to keep fightingup troops. joining us now a senior fell low for american progress. he specializes in the middle east and south asia . brian, thank you for being here. we appreciate your time.

    >> hi, rachel.

    >> it is tough leading taliban leaders pass safely when so many u.s. troops are being killed by the taliban . the only reason it makes sense is if these negotiations are going to end the war. do you really think it's likely they are?

    >> i i don't think anyone really knows the answer to that question. i would draw a parallel to iraq . a big part of it is we reached out. today we actually have an iraqi government that actually has political forces that has american blood on their hands. that's a part of the nature of these conflicts, you know.

    >> in terms of the parallel with iraq , one of the things that happened in 2006 is the insurgent groups on their own ? decided they wanted to be a part of negotiating some sort of solution, some sort of solution that excluded groups like say al qaeda in iraq . once those insurgent groups decided that on their own, u.s. forces decided to get in and try to facilitate it. is that same sort of thing happening where this is happening organically among afghans and that we are just trying to help or are we making this happen?

    >> i think it may be happening organically. the key factor here, the difference, is pakistan and the fact that in pakistan a lot of these militant groups have a safe haven and we know this. u.s. operations have gone across the border. there have been multiple drone strikes there and they have supported elements of the insur jepcy. so they're the key wild card that make it a little bit more complicated than iraq and we have to be careful about these parallels. this is very complicated. i would categorize these talks and everything that secretary gates is talking about in brussels right now as very important but also easier said than done. easy to execute but hard to get right.

    >> are we count tong afghan government to be able to come to an enfofrs forceable deal or will we be involved in trying to make it happen and will be involved in trying to make it stick?

    >> i think the u.s. has been involved in multiple efforts for several years to bring some elements of the taliban back in. think the only way it really works is if this is an afghan-led process. if karzai and others in the afghan government can actually facilitate a power-sharing deal. if it's seen to be something that we execute ourselves, it may not sustain itself, and at the end of the day , all of the parties have got to agree to it. i think the news reports in "the wall street journal " and "the new york times" you're talking about allude to a nato official says the u.s. has facilitated some travel. a lot of this has happened before , too, in places like saudi arabia . there have been talks for years, and i think we need to wait to see if there's more there in terms of whether there's a sustainable agreement here.

    >> right. and one of the things i know that you have worked on and studied is the connection between the war effort and americans ' feelings about the war.

    >> right.

    >> if this is the way the war ends, either in the short term, 5 term, or, god forbid , the mgd the long term, tell us how it plays out here. we installeded ten years later that government make as deal with the taliban . how does that play out here among the american public?

    >> well, thing the key factor, number one, is done the american public perceive we're safer as a result of all these actions? we're in afghanistan because of the 9/11 attacks, and i think if through ice a sense that we actually degraded al qaeda and others, i think if we passed the theest -- i think we have passed the test when you hear 50 to 100 al qaeda representatives perhaps in afghanistan -- then beyond that oochz, think there's this issue of most americans today, sadly, i think, are disconnected from these wars. know you were out in afghanistan earlier this summer. the burden of these wars are actually being borne mostly by the troops, other people serving in the u.s. government and their families. that's a very narrow slice of the american public and because we're financing this war and all of the wars on borrowed money, most americans don't feel the financial impact of this. so the sad thing is when you look at the midterm elections and the politics of national security the vast majority of americans aren't affected by what's going on right now and this disconnection, think, is one of the most dangers things. so i, you know, think there'll be less attention to how this ends if it ends peacefully.

    >> which is bad in the sense of our moral obligation to be connected to this fighting and dieing in our name.

    >> absolutely.

    >> and it may be good in the soechbs actually trying to wind doubtdown the war without it being politicized and extended for fame and glory. brian katulis. thank you very much for joining us. appreciate

Interactive: Nine years of war

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