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On Thanksgiving, Afghanistan Strategy Announcement Looms

November 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Judy Woodruff speaks to a Washington Post reporter about developments in Afghanistan just days before President Obama makes a decision about U.S. strategy there.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And, as Afghans await President Obama’s Tuesday speech, I talked earlier today with Washington Post Kabul correspondent Josh Partlow.

Josh Partlow, thank you very much for talking with us.

Let me start by asking you, with President Obama’s announcement coming up next Tuesday, what are ordinary Afghan people looking for? What do they want out of this announcement?

JOSH PARTLOW: I think, primarily, they’re looking for a better sense of security in the country.

You know, they’re going through a pretty — a very difficult insurgency right now. They want security. They want jobs. You know, I think they want a commitment from the United States that they will be here long-term to — to help them. And, you know, it’s a little bit unclear if that will actually happen.

But, you know, many Afghans are — are afraid of the return of the Taliban. You know, they see the United States government as — as kind of propping up President Karzai’s government here. And — and, without them, you know, the — the Taliban might swoop back into power.

And — and a lot of them are afraid of that. At the same time, I think they don’t want, you know, so many more American troops, so this is an — this is an endless occupation, or perceived as such. And, so, there’s a lot of nationalism and pride. And they want to be, you know, the drivers of their own destiny here in Afghanistan.

So, you know, you have conflicting opinions. There are people who want more — more soldiers, in the hopes that that will bring better security. And there are those who want the Afghans to take control of — of their own country.

Karzai hoping for more U.S. troops

Josh Partlow
The Washington Post
There's been a lot of friction between the two countries, especially during the election and the fraud that took place there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about inside the government, in the Afghan government? What are officials saying they want out of this American decision?

JOSH PARTLOW: I think they're trying to walk a pretty fine line right now. I think it's clear that -- that more is probably better for President Karzai. They want -- they want more troops. They want the money, the financial support.

You know, they are, many people believe, losing this war right now. And so they need -- they need the help. At the same time, I think he's been very careful not to -- not to publicly embrace the United States, frankly.

There's been a lot of friction between the two countries, especially during the election and the fraud that took place there. And he is -- he is trying to be -- be -- avoid the perception that he is a puppet of the -- of the American government.

So, when you hear him talk about what he wants, he wants -- he wants the support of the international community, but it's in order to strengthen his own administration, it's in order to build up the Afghan army and the Afghan police force.

You know, he said in his inauguration speech a few days ago that he wants Afghan security forces to take full control of the security in the country in five years. And many people think that's a pretty ambitious goal.

But, you know, he said he wants international private security companies out in two years. He wants Americans out of running the detention centers. He wants more international funding going through the Afghan budget, up to about half of international funding, in a couple years.

So, he's -- he's trying to, you know, strengthen his own administration through whatever support, additional support, he gets from the United States.

Engaging with the Taliban

Josh Partlow
The Washington Post
I think people are generally pessimistic about the level of safety and security. It's primarily a rural insurgency, but it's -- it's creeping into the cities with more and more regularity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Josh Partlow, we have heard that the Afghan government is looking to engage with the Taliban, to find a way to negotiate with them. How much are you hearing about that?

JOSH PARTLOW: Yes, that's a very big issue right now. It's something President Karzai spoke about in his inauguration speech.

Again, it was -- it's -- it's his top priority, he says. You know, he said he will convene a large tribal council of leaders, a loya jirga, you know, including reaching out to the Taliban -- he often refers to them as "my Taliban brothers" -- you know, to try to solve these issues, you know, peace -- through peaceful dialogue.

I mean, it's a very difficult time to do this. I mean, the Taliban has the momentum. They're extremely -- you know, they have proven to be a capable insurgency. You know, they have aspirations to -- to control Afghanistan. Again, they're not necessarily in a position of weakness right now, and they're not -- necessarily have a lot of incentive to -- to negotiate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Last question, Josh Partlow. You have been in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. How much safer do the Afghan people feel -- or do they -- than, say, six months ago?

JOSH PARTLOW: Well, I got into Afghanistan about four months ago.

And, you know, I mean, it's been a -- it's been -- I wouldn't say a steady increase in violence, but it's been -- compared to previous years in this war, we're at the highest levels of violence.

So, you know, I think people are generally pessimistic about the level of safety and security. It's primarily a rural insurgency, but it's -- it's creeping into the cities with more and more regularity.

And, here in Kabul, it's not infrequent to have rocket attacks or car bombs, or, you know, those things are not as common as they -- as they were in the height of the violence in Iraq in 2006 and 2007, but it's -- it's definitely worrisome. And it seems to be -- it seems to be getting worse.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Josh Partlow of The Washington Post, we thank you for joining us, especially on this Thanksgiving Day. Thank you.

JOSH PARTLOW: Thanks very much for having me.