Afghans Divided On When U.S. Troops Should Leave

President Obama has told the nation that he's pulling 33,000 troops from Afghanistan by next summer. About 10,000 of those troops will be withdrawn by the end of the year. How was the announcement received in the Afghan capital Kabul?

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Let's hear some responses to last night's speech by President Obama. The president said he is starting a slow U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In Kabul, reaction fell along ethnic lines. Some groups want the United States out, while others want Americans to stay.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE: Between a few half-finished concrete buildings in north Kabul is one of the city's stranger market places.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

LAWRENCE: The Bush Bazaar is named after George W. Bush, not so much as an homage to the former president, but because it's full of American military gear and provisions, presumably lifted from the trucks that supply U.S. bases. Many of the shopkeepers and customers say they were hearing rumors about President Obama's speech. They're mostly ethnic Tajiks, and they think the troops should stay.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #2: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: One shopkeeper, Haji Omar Said, is watching the television news, which focuses on the on-going dispute over last September's elections. He doesn't know the details of Obama's speech, but he's scared about U.S. troops leaving.

Mr. HAJI OMAR SAID (Shopkeeper): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: I think that's the worst thing that could happen here, because we have six jihadi leaders here who are poised to start fighting again as soon as the Americans pull out. So once the foreign troops leave, we'll have a similar situation as we had in the '90s.

Said says Afghanistan's government isn't strong enough to prevent a civil war, and neither is the army. Most around the bazaar agreed with him, suggesting that the American troops stay anything from another five years to another 50 years to stabilize Afghanistan. A few neighborhoods away, the opinions swing 180 degrees.

(Soundbite of sewing machines)

LAWRENCE: On a street lined with mostly Pashtun tailors, old sewing machines grind away like jackhammers. Qodratulla, a diminutive man from Logar province, just south of Kabul, says that all non-Muslims should leave Afghanistan, and he welcomed the news of any troop withdrawal.

QODRATULLA: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: There was fighting in my province all night last night, said the tailor. He says the more Americans there are in Afghanistan, the more trouble there will be, especially in the countryside, and especially for ethnic Pashtuns, he says.

Of course, not all in the Pashtun lands agree. In the southern province of Helmand, provincial councilmember Malika Helmandi said she is dreading the American departure.

Ms. MALIKA HELMANDI (Provincial Councilmember, Helmand Province): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Helmandi says women have made lots of progress in the past decade, but that will all disappear if security decreases. She says it's only because of the British and American troops in Helmand that some girls' schools have been able to operate. She, too, feels that the Afghan state isn't ready to stand on its own. But others argue that it never will, unless the Americans start stepping aside.

Mr. AMANULLAH SALEH (Former Intelligence Chief, Afghanistan): The more they do the whole thing here for us and not give us leadership role, or we sort of say, you know, they are here, why should we do it? That's not good for Afghanistan.

LAWRENCE: Amanullah Saleh is the former director of Intelligence for the Afghan government. He says Afghans must stand up to the task themselves. But that doesn't mean Saleh is optimistic. Resigned is a better word. Saleh thinks the Afghan government is weak and the Taliban are not nearly as diminished as the White House claims.

Mr. SALEH: And the fundamentals I told you. Taliban are not defeated. Whether these troops go now or in four years time, it will be the same.

LAWRENCE: Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

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