Nightly News | October 30, 2009
>> york studios tonight. bob, thanks.
>>> and back now to the story we've been here all week to cover. the current situation here in afghanistan as president obama weighs the various military options. on that strategy session at the white house that we mentioned just a few moments ago at the top of the broadcast, our own political director and chief white house correspondent chuck todd is reporting this was a session where the president pushed his commanders for more options. we're told he's not particularly happy with any one of those on the table so far. and the centerpiece, of course, is general mcchrystal's request for at least 40,000 more troops. then there's the question of who we are fighting and who we came here to fight. the taliban has almost quadrupled in size since 2006 . according to some u.s. intelligence estimates. our own chief foreign correspondent richard engel with us here in kabul on how this has managed to be such a strong comeback for them. a question a lot of people are asking.
>> and it's a question that affects the daily lives not only of the soldiers but of many afghans living in this country. there are now roughly 25,000 taliban fighters in afghanistan alone. they fled to kabul to escape the taliban , proof of the militants' growing power . 3,500 people pack this squalid refugee camp on the outskirts of the city , where children wash in filthy canals. most here are from southern afghanistan . in a tent two elders tell me the taliban used their village to launch attacks on nato troops. they were caught in the crossfire. "we have no power," he says. "we can't stop the taliban , and we can't stop the u.s. military ." but tauz khan says he's considering returning home, even though he fears he'd be coerced into joining the taliban . his family risks dying from poverty and sickness if they stay in the camp. this camp is growing every week as more and more families escape the violence. people here tell us the taliban have been able to expand its influence, mainly through intimidation. the militants now have strongholds in about 80% of afghanistan . but how did the taliban make such a comeback? 2001 , after the attacks of 9/11, u.s. forces invaded afghanistan to hunt down al qaeda . their hosts, the taliban , were a secondary target. but as u.s. forces moved in, al qaeda and the taliban didn't stay to fight. the militants and their leaders, osama bin laden and taliban commander mullah omar , crossed into the tribal regions of pakistan . only yesterday pakistani forces on an offensive in the tribal regions discovered passports, including one of a man accused of helping chief 9/11 hijacker mohammed atta . but around 2005 the taliban returned to afghanistan because they could. back then there were few u.s. troops in afghanistan . many more were being deployed to iraq. and the afghan army only had 35,000 men.
>> they figured out there was an opportunity. they figured out how to recast their own image a little bit and appear a little bit more moderate so that afghans would not be quite as worried about a possible taliban revival.
>> reporter: and what happened to al qaeda ? after eight years fighting and cooperating, both in afghanistan and in pakistan , al qaeda and the taliban have grown closer than ever.
>> now they have a common cause, which is to fight nato forces in afghanistan . now they joined their efforts together in this fight.
>> reporter: in the afghan countryside taliban militants now openly patrol, subsidized by a robust opium trade . and although they're unpopular, few afghans have been willing to fight the taliban , afraid u.s. forces might leave and they'll be hunted down. other afghans choose not to fight the taliban because the alternative is, brian, to support the afghan government , which is widely seen as corrupt and ineffective.
>> now, while this debate goes on, richard, i took some notes today. military folks i talked to just today. a marine colonel saying, "i want my commander in chief to take his time and think this out before committing more marines." an army major said to me, "we just want a decision." so as this process goes on in washington that will affect this war zone , is there any danger to an extended decision process ?
>> there's a general perception out there that if a decision is made there will be immediate relief to the troops. and people want that. they see the caskets coming home . but as you know, the military moves very, very slowly. so any decision that takes place now could take six months before it's implemented. so probably the bigger danger is deciding what to do and then not implementing it. there's not going to be any quick fixes, brian.
>> richard engel , who of course stays on in this region to cover the story as it goes on. richard, thanks.
>>> across the border in pakistan