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Insurgent Bombing Strikes Afghan Volleyball Tournament

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's explore the implications of President Obama's decision to extend the mission of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and allow combat operations through 2015. It comes as Afghan forces struggle to hold back militants and an increasing number of civilians are being killed. Yesterday brought an especially shocking attack. A suicide bomber attacked a volleyball game in a remote village, leaving 57 dead and scores injured. NPR's Sean Carberry joined us from Kabul for more. Good morning.

SEAN CARBERRY, BYLINE: Morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: So give us a little context about this bombing.

CARBERRY: Well, this was the second-most deadly attack on civilians in Afghanistan this year. And this type of attack is very rare here, unlike Iraq where you do get a lot of bombs in civilian areas. Civilians here tend to be more so-called collateral damages to attacks on government and other posts.

MONTAGNE: So it is not clear at this moment who's behind this bombing and why it occurred. But it does come at an interesting moment because one of the houses of parliament has approved a bilateral security agreement between Afghanistan and the United States, and this has implications for American troops in Afghanistan. Tell us about that.

CARBERRY: Well, as you said, the lower house of parliament has passed - it is now going to the upper house for final ratification, presumably, sometime this week. And again, this is the deal that allows U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan after this year. And under that agreement, U.S. forces are supposed to carry out two primary missions. One is to continue training of Afghan forces. The other is counterterrorism operations to go after any remnants of al-Qaida. And what the U.S. has clarified, it appears, in the last few days is that they will also provide air support to Afghan forces next year, which apparently had been off the table but something that Afghan forces have asked for, President Ghani has supported. And in addition, U.S. forces will have the ability to go after Taliban who pose a direct threat to them.

MONTAGNE: So the way in which they are able to support Afghan forces is a little less limited, but it still sounds quite limited.

CARBERRY: The overall mission is supposed to be what they call train, advise and assist. It's supposed to be limited. It's supposed to be Afghan-driven. But there will be moments where U.S. forces are engaged in combat next year.

MONTAGNE: Well, a lot of that has to do with this new president, Ashraf Ghani, who is very much different than the previous president, Hamid Karzai. Talk to us about that - how things have changed.

CARBERRY: It's been a dramatic change. President Karzai was really trying to restrict U.S. military operations here. President Ghani has been holding meetings with top U.S. commanders here. He has had a very open relationship with them, discussing how to move forward. So it's a seachange, and U.S. officials here say that they're very happy with this relationship and feel that it's focusing more on the military needs on the ground rather than the political interests of President Karzai.

MONTAGNE: Sean, thanks very much.

CARBERRY: Your welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Sean Carberry in Kabul, Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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