Many in Afghanistan oppose Obama's troop buildup plans
Frustration and fear is sparking opposition to plans that would nearly double the size of US forces there.
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"Send us 30,000 scholars instead. Or 30,000 engineers. But don't send more troops – it will just bring more violence."
Ms. Barakzai is among the growing number of Afghans – especially in the Pashtun south – who oppose a troop increase here, posing what could be the biggest challenge to the Obama administration's stabilization strategy.
"At least half the country is deeply suspicious of the new troops," says Kabul-based political analyst Waheed Muzjda. "The US will have to wage an intense hearts-and-minds campaign to turn this situation around."
The lack of public support could provide fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban and hinder US operations, Mr. Muzjda says.
After a year that saw the highest number of civilian and troop casualties since the war began in 2001, officials in Washington recently pledged to send 17,000 soldiers to stem the growing violence. The move has broad support among the American public – a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 64 percent back the new deployments.
Much of the Afghan opposition comes from provinces dominated by the Pashtun ethnic group, which include areas that have seen the most fighting and where the new troops will be deployed. A group of 50 mostly Pashtun members of parliament recently formed a working group aimed at blocking the arrival of new troops and pushing for a bilateral military agreement between Kabul and Washington, which currently does not exist.
Pashtun support is crucial
Although any proposed legislation or motion condemning the troop increase would be purely symbolic – the Afghan government does not have direct say over the operations of Western forces – observers say that the development is an important gauge of public opinion in Pashtun areas.
Dozens of interviews with tribal elders, parliamentarians who are not part of the working group, and locals in Pashtun areas have revealed similar sentiments.
"I can't find a single man in the entire province who is in favor of more troops," says Awal Khan, a tribal leader from Logar province, just south of Kabul. "They don't respect our tradition, culture, or religion."
"The majority of my people disagree with this increase," says Hanif Shah Hosseini, an MP from Khost province who is not part of the working group. "More troops won't bring more security, just an increase in the fighting."
US supporters targeted
Many cite civilian casualties and house raids as the main reason for their opposition. Recently in Logar, armed locals blocked the highway into Kabul for hours, in protest of a night raid where US forces killed one and detained three others. According to local reports, the nearly 2,000 protestors burned tires and chanted anti-US slogans.
In Kandahar Province, villagers recently placed the bodies of two children who were killed by mines in front a government office, shouting anti-Western slogans. They alleged that unexploded Canadian ordnance killed the children.