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On Debate Over Pulling Troops: The View From Some On The Ground

Correction June 13, 2011

The original headline and body of this post did not accurately characterize all that was said and could have given a mistaken impression about how most Marines in Afghanistan feel regarding any withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. NPR's Tom Bowman and the Marine quoted in his report were only discussing the situation in Afghanistan's Helmand Province.

U.S. Marines with Golf Company patrol with Afghan forces  through a harvested poppy field in Northern Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

hide captionU.S. Marines with Golf Company patrol with Afghan forces through a harvested poppy field in Northern Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

David Gilkey/NPR

Later this month, President Obama is expected to announce just how many combat troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan starting in July.

NPR's Pentagon Correspondent Tom Bowman has been talking to Marines in southern Afghanistan's Helmand Province. He reports from there that, "most Marines say they don't think it's a good idea to pull combat troops out of the area. Maybe some support troops such as, maybe, construction battalions. But not what they'd call trigger-pullers. The Marines say they've made gains against the Taliban with the so-called surge in troops over the past year. And they're still on the hunt for pockets of Taliban around here."

Tom talked with host Melissa Block on tonight's edition of All Things Considered.

He spoke about asking Sgt. John Moulder "can [the U.S.] pull [combat] troops out around here" next month? "No, not at all," Moulder said. "Like, if anything we need more troops."

Sgt. John Moulder on All Things Considered

"The Marines I talk with," Tom added, "say 'listen, we finally have the right number of troops here. With the troop surge ... we're making progress.' And you keep talking with them, saying 'well, listen, you know, we've been here 10 years now. People at home are sick of this.' And they keep saying, 'we need more time.' "

Afghan National Army Soldiers cross a stream while on a joint patrol with U.S. Marines in Northern Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan. i i

hide captionAfghan National Army Soldiers cross a stream while on a joint patrol with U.S. Marines in Northern Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

David Gilkey/NPR
Afghan National Army Soldiers cross a stream while on a joint patrol with U.S. Marines in Northern Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Afghan National Army Soldiers cross a stream while on a joint patrol with U.S. Marines in Northern Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

David Gilkey/NPR

Another issue, said Tom, is that the handoff to the Afghan military is complicated, because the Afghan units need more training.

Tom said he had been on patrol with the Marines in the area. He asked Moulder how the Afghan troops were doing.

Sgt. John Moulder on All Things Considered

"Just to be honest," Moulder replied, "if you've seen some of them in firefights, some of them just 'spray and pray.' So it's like, if we really want these guys to be successful and don't want ... civil uprisings and all this ridiculous stuff happen after we leave ... and have to come right back and help them out. I would say we need to start training them."

Tom saw some of those troops on patrol last fall. Some are OK, he reports. But it will be a while before they can take over security for their country. "Overall," he says, the Afghan troops "need more time."

To listen to Melissa's full interview with Tom, tune into All Things Considered on your local NPR member station. We'll post the as-aired version of the interview a little later today.

[Correction at 1:25 p.m. ET, June 9: Our earlier editing of what NPR's Tom Bowman reported and what Sgt. John Moulder said in this report didn't accurately characterize all that was said. So, we've written through this post to make clear that the Marines who NPR's Tom Bowman spoke with were talking about the situation in the area where they are now working — Afghanistan's Helmand Province. They were not talking about the situation in Afghanistan in general or about the general issue of how many combat troops are needed in that country.]

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