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Afghanistan Commander: Still Fighting the Taliban

Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan since June 2003, spoke to NPR's Steve Inskeep about a resurgence of attacks by the Taliban against police and civilian officials. Vines says the enemy is most active in southern Afghanistan, near some of the nation's most productive opium fields.

U.S. officials have said for years that the opium trade supported the Taliban during its time in power in Afghanistan. Officials say the opium trade actually dropped off when the Taliban banned it -- but now it's coming back, and Vines says the Taliban is still being supported by opium traffickers and radical Islamic groups in Pakistan. Southern Afghanistan is one of the world's richest sources of the plant that forms the raw material for heroin.

For more than a year, Vines has commanded an allied force that now includes about 8,500 Americans. The mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan are still considered the most likely hiding places for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. In the last few weeks, Vines says his soldiers found and defeated enemy fighters in mountain camps.

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Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.