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The number of roadside bombs rose from roughly 1,000 in 2007 to 2,000 in 2008, while the number of kidnappings jumped from about 150 to 300, said Ambassador William Wood.

Speaking at an end-of-the-year press conference, Mr. Wood called 2008 a “good year but also a hard year.”

The Taliban in the past year has pushed into remote areas of Afghanistan where the government has little presence and where Afghan and international security forces rarely reach. To counter that, the U.S. will soon begin a pilot program to train Afghan tribal members selected by their local leaders to help defend their villages, Mr. Wood said.

The ambassador stressed repeatedly that the U.S. would not provide any weapons for the community defense program and that the program wasn’t the re-creation of tribal militias. He said that Afghanistan has always depended on local groups to defend their communities and that President Hamid Karzai asked the U.S. to strengthen villagers’ defense initiatives.