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As NATO Requests More Troops, Soldiers in Khost Fight Insurgents, Help to Rebuild

Western nations renewed their support for war-torn Afghanistan earlier this month as the poverty-stricken country struggles to recover from decades of war.

Donor nations pledged more than $20 billion at a Paris conference to help the country rebuild, in the face of a persistent Taliban insurgency.

Ten years ago, Osama bin Laden chose a small town near the Pakistani border to announce al-Qaida's jihad, or holy war, on the U.S. VOA returned to the region and the town of Khost to find American troops on the ground, battling an insurgency and attitudes still loyal to bin Laden's message. Mandy Clark reports from Khost.

Coalition troops in Afghanistan see themselves as fighting on more than one front. There is the shooting war against remnants of the Taliban and al Qaida and the battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

The small Afghan town of Khost, near the Pakistani border, is a key battleground. Here, American troops patrol the streets in convoys.

Ten years ago, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden issued a fatwa, or judgment, in Khost urging Muslims worldwide to kill Americans. He fled to the mountains after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

Yet, frequent attacks in this region against the American base in Khost are evidence that insurgents still follow bin Laden's teachings.

American soldiers say one way they fight back is by helping to rebuild the country. They give local Afghans the tools they need. Many citizens of this community work to fix a main road into town.

Captain Diane Rutty organizes the supplies needed for such missions. She says she sees her work as an integral part of the war against terrorists.

"We are helping the country of Afghanistan have freedoms they have not experienced before in the history of this country," she says.

But those loyal to bin Laden see coalition troops as invaders, not liberators.

The United States has several thousand ground troops on anti-terrorism operations, mainly in southern and eastern Afghanistan. About 16,000 American troops also are operating within a NATO force of more than 40,000.

Over the past seven years, more than 843 coalition troops have died in Afghanistan. There is no official death toll for Afghan civilians but Human Rights Watch estimates it to be over 3,000.

The U.N. refugee agency cites safety and security as the biggest priorities for civilians.

NATO claims coalition troops have brought stability, that about two thirds of the security incidents occur in less than 10 percent of the country's provinces.

Spokesman James Appathurai said, “This insurgency, if you want to call it that, is not spreading. It is geographically contained. There has been real improvement in what has been basically a tiny silver of time considering the challenges that Afghanistan faces and where it has come."

Yet, violent incidents in recent months have persisted. The Taliban claimed its attempt to assassinate President Hamid Karzai during a military parade in April proved that it could strike anywhere. NATO leaders have called on member nations to pledge more troops to better control the region.

But former British foreign secretary, David Owen says security cannot come from an outside force.

Owen believes, "If success is military victory, no. If success is to give Afghanistan time to find amongst its own people a solution, which may be very different from what we want them to be, then maybe that's all we can do."

Troops here in Khost say they know part of their mission is to chase down the extremists. But, the military has also put a strong emphasis on working with the local people, to try to make their lives better and, in that way, secure a better future for Afghanistan.