White House Crafts New Afghanistan Policy

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The United States has been sending thousands more troops to fight in Afghanistan. For the past several months, military commanders and others have been reviewing all aspects of war policy in Afghanistan, and their work is finally done. President Obama is expected to announce the results this week.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

The United States is sending thousands more troops to fight in Afghanistan. And this week the president is expected to settle on precisely what the strategy will be when they get there. For the past several months, military commanders and others have been reviewing all aspects of war policy in Afghanistan. Their work is finally done.

NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman has learned about some details of the new strategy and he joins us now to talk about it. Let's hear some of those key findings, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN: Well, first of all, Renee, a lot more than just troops are needed. Military officials and others say you can't win this militarily. You can't kill your way out of this situation. But that being said, first of all, you must establish security.

Right now, Afghanistan is not secure, especially in the southern part of the country, which is the homeland of the Taliban. Attacks there have increased sharply. So most of the 17,000 additional U.S. troops will head to the south, establish security, set up small outposts in the provinces there, particularly Helmond and Kandahar. And, really, much like they did in Iraq with the surge in troops there and also the change in strategy in Iraq.

MONTAGNE: Much like that in what respect?

BOWMAN: Well, again, you spread out into the countryside. You get in with the population. The whole key in this counterinsurgency effort is to protect the population. You have to live among them, provide security again. And then after that, you're able to provide better governance and development and so forth. So that's what they're looking at here, again, taking a page from Iraq.

MONTAGNE: And then what else is required according to what you're hearing about the reviews?

BOWMAN: Well, more money for development. And also a lot more civilian experts, not just military people. So civilian experts who know about agriculture, development, building wells and roads, helping government work, providing services. That's all lacking now in Afghanistan. And it's a real problem. There are widespread complaints that the government of President Hamid Karzai is not providing services because of inefficiency, incompetence or just plain corruption. So this is really a key part of all the reviews we're hearing.

MONTAGNE: Now, we heard a lot about civilian contractors in Iraq, speaking of Iraq, where will these civilians come from?

BOWMAN: Well, some from the U.S. government. General David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan, told me he's getting dozens of agents from the FBI and DEA to deal with the drug problem there, go after narcotics labs and the midlevel traffickers. But officials are going to push NATO really hard to provide more civilian experts as well.

Pentagon officials say, listen, America's doing quite a lot now with troops. They want Europe to step up and do even more. So they're going to press them for their government people, private organizations, universities to step forward with their experts. And, again, experts who can help rebuild the country.

We also expect President Obama to make a pitch to European allies next week when he travels there for a NATO meeting.

MONTAGNE: Now, there's been a lot of talk about talking to the Taliban, obviously quite controversial idea. Is this something the White House is contemplating?

BOWMAN: Well, they're looking at it, but you're probably not going to see anything on this right away, and I think in some respects it's been misconstrued. The people I talk with at the Pentagon and elsewhere involved in the reviews say, you know, they're talking about the Taliban foot soldiers and not necessarily the Taliban leadership, and that's a key distinction. And the hope is that as you move forward, provide more security, more government services and more development, that these foot soldiers, now, will put down their arms and be more willing to deal with the government, become part of the political process, again, much like we saw in Iraq.

MONTAGNE: Well, just briefly, Tom, can any strategy for Afghanistan work without a plan for Pakistan?

BOWMAN: Absolutely not. I mean you're going to need to provide more development money, more assistance to the government there. That is a key part of this. Everyone I talk with will tell that maybe the most important part dealing with Afghanistan starts in Pakistan.

MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

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