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Troops Reticent About Obama’s Afghan Strategy

November 30, 2009 at 6:43 PM EST
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Global Post correspondent Ben Gilbert gets reactions from U.S. troops stationed in Kandahar to President Obama's plan to deploy more troops to Afghanistan.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: That follows two takes on reaction to President Obama’s upcoming announcement that he will send more troops to Afghanistan.

The first comes from Ben Gilbert of Global Post, part of our new partnership with that international news Web site. I talked with Gilbert by phone earlier today from Kandahar Airfield.

Ben, thank you for talking with us.

Tell us, remind us where Kandahar is and why it’s important to the military.

BEN GILBERT: Kandahar City is the provincial capital of Kandahar Province, which is in Southern Afghanistan. And Kandahar is the original founding city of the Taliban.

They came out of this town, of this city, actually, a city of 500,000 to 800,000 people, in 1994. It is — the U.S. and NATO generals have called it the gravity — or the center of gravity of Southern Afghanistan, and they have put particular emphasis on the necessity of securing this town.

In this area in Southern Afghanistan, the NATO forces here that the U.S. is a part of is called — the area of operations is called Regional Command South. What that is, is the largest area of operations within the NATO international security force in Afghanistan.

It’s about 34,000 troops right now. The bulk of them are U.S. troops. The Afghan police and army are supposed to be in control of the city of Kandahar, but actually the Taliban has established their own courts there. They kind of neighborhood bosses. They post posters at night to say, if you cooperate with the foreign forces, you know, we’re watching you, so, intimidation tactics and kind of a shadow government that they’re actually said to be running within Kandahar City.

And, so, the goal of many — many reports are speculating that the emphasis of part of the surge of troops will be to actually ring Kandahar, not unlike the Baghdad surge operation in 2007 in Iraq, and actually to saturate the area around Kandahar with a number of troops to kind of cut off Kandahar from being infiltrated by the Taliban.

Division in the ranks

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Ben, from your conversations with officers and with enlisted troops, what are they saying about what they expect from this announcement of the president?

BEN GILBERT: Everyone has been reading the news. And they assume it's going to be around 34,000 troops who are included in this surge. But it's really divided.

There was a captain I was talking to today, an Air Force captain who is training Afghans in logistics and, you know, arranging warehouses for the military. And he said: You know, we have got health care to worry about in the states. We have a huge deficit. We have got our economy, unemployment. So, you know, let's get everybody out of here and focus on the United States. Afghanistan has a long way to go. But let's bring the troops home and stop wasting money here.

But then you have the flip side of that view. And a lot of soldiers here will say -- will say that, actually, what Afghanistan needs is more troops. Some of these guys, they have been running -- one guy that I talked to has been running route clearance. He's an EOD -- or he deals with defusing IEDs and searching them out.

And he said: We drive down the street, you know, 20 minutes -- we clear IEDs off the street. We come back the next day, they're planted again. What we need is more troops on the ground, more boots on the ground in order to saturate areas.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ben Gilbert with Global Post, thank you very much, reporting from Kandahar Airfield.

BEN GILBERT: Thank you, Judy.