By KATHY GANNON (AP)
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — The Taliban are moving fighters into Kandahar, planting bombs and plotting attacks as NATO and Afghan forces prepare for a summer showdown with insurgents, according to a Taliban commander with close ties to senior insurgent leaders.
NATO and Afghan forces are stepping up operations to push Taliban fighters out of the city, which was the Islamist movement's headquarters during the years it ruled most of Afghanistan. The goal is to bolster the capability of the local government so that it can keep the Taliban from coming back.
The Taliban commander, who uses the pseudonym Mubeen, told The Associated Press that if military pressure on the insurgents becomes too great "we will just leave and come back after" the foreign forces leave.
Despite nightly raids by NATO and Afghan troops, Mubeen said his movements have not been restricted. He was interviewed last week in the center of Kandahar, seated with his legs crossed on a cushion in a room. His only concession to security was to lock the door.
He made no attempt to hide his face and said he felt comfortable because of widespread support among Kandahar's 500,000 residents, who like the Taliban are mostly Pashtuns, Afghanistan's biggest ethnic community.
"Because of the American attitude to the people, they are sympathetic to us," Mubeen said. "Every day we are getting more support. We are not strangers. We are not foreigners. We are from the people."
It is difficult to measure the depth of support for the Taliban among Kandahar's people, many of whom say they are disgusted by the presence of both the foreign troops and the insurgents. Many of them say they are afraid NATO's summer offensive will accomplish little other than trigger more violence..."