Obama's Afghanistan speech: How it sounded to Afghans
Obama’s Afghanistan speech set a timeline for withdrawal, but some Afghans worry that by sending more troops the US aims to occupy their country – a fear the Taliban may use to recruit fighters.
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NATO commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal reiterated Wednesday in Kabul that the president's plan prioritizes building up the Afghan security forces so that eventually they "have the capacity to deal with [the Taliban] effectively."Skip to next paragraph
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As for the short term, he said, the 18-month timeline "is not an absolute." It does not mark the end of all foreign troops in the country and won't allow the Taliban to play out the clock, he said. "To a degree, the insurgents cannot afford to leave the battlefield while the government of Afghanistan expands its capability … because that gives the government a good opportunity to make its case effectively to the people."
Afghan perceptions key to success
At times, McChrystal's use of the language of counterinsurgency bordered on an post-modern sense of war as perception alone.
"There are force ratios and there are physical things, but mostly it is in people's minds," he said. The task is to build the confidence of the Afghan security forces, convince the insurgents they cannot contest territory, and "most importantly, to convince the people in the middle that the government is going to be able to do this."
Afghans, however, suggest that they cannot live on perceptions and patriotism alone. The money for additional US troops would better be spent raising the salaries of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police, says Mr. Wafaie, the security guard. Late last month, pay raises of $45 a month were announced, putting starting salaries at around $165. But it may not suffice.
Joining the Taliban comes with side benefits – members can stay in their home village and enjoy local power and prestige – that the government must counter by offering higher salaries, Wafaie says.
But perceptions also play a role, he concedes. The Taliban have convinced many people in his home province of Uruzgon that the US means to occupy. He worries that the only message that will come through from Obama's speech is that more US troops are coming in 2010, not that they also intend to begin leaving in 2011.
"The additional 30,000 troops is going to be a good opportunity for the Taliban to recruit more," he says.
"But people say they are helping the government and at the same time helping the Taliban," he adds. "Instead of sending more troops to Afghanistan, they have to work hard" against the Taliban.