By Frank James
Damned if you do, damned if you don't, seems to be the message President Barack Obama can take away from the reaction in Afghanistan to his newly announced way forward there.
If the debate over the president's decision seems scrambled and confused here in the U.S., with Democrats opposing Obama's decision to escalate and Republicans who generally oppose him now supporting him, except for his decision to set a glide path for withdrawal, the debate in Afghanistan appears to be no less tangled.
The Wall Street Journal reports Wednesday that some Afghans oppose the surge of 30,000 U.S. troops into their country but also don't like Obama providing a timetable for withdrawal.
So they don't want more of U.S. troops and they don't want U.S. troops to leave. Except for those who do want U.S. troops to depart. Confusing? Absolutely.
Senior Afghan officials said that they didn't support the injection of more troops, since previous troop increases haven't successful in pushing back the insurgency. At the same time, officials said that they talk of withdrawal could embolden the insurgency.
"We couldn't solve the Afghanistan problem in eight years, but now the U.S. wants to solve it in 18 months? I don't see how it could be done," said Segbatullah Sanjar, chief policy adviser for Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"The announcement just gives good news to the Taliban and others," said Shukria Barakzai, a prominent lawmaker.
Meanwhile, it sounds like the Taliban see more U.S. troops as a net plus for them since they can use it for recruiting purposes too. More from the WSJ:
The Taliban said in a statement that the troop increase would strengthen their movement. "However many more troops the enemy sends against our Afghan mujahedeen, they are committed to increasing the number of mujahedeen and strengthen their resistance," the group said in an emailed statement.
And the piece has a fairly stark example of how diametrically opposed the views are in Afghanistan:
In Kabul and other cities, where life has improved markedly since the arrival of U.S. forces, the news sparked concerns. "If the Americans start to leave Afghanistan, the weak army and police combined with the resurgent Taliban could eventually lead to a civil war," said Mazid Sohil, 25, an engineer from Kabul.
In the rural Pashtun countryside, which has been the scene of incessant fighting in recent years, sentiment favoring troop withdrawal is higher. "People here are tired of the fighting and tired of the American presence," said Habib Gul Stanakzai, a teacher from the southern province of Zabul. "I hope the Americans are true to their words and leave."