Gauging Progress Of Afghan War
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
A: The war in Afghanistan and what's next. And here's our next question.
SIEGEL: Is the U.S. succeeding in Afghanistan? Well, we turn once again to NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, who is in Afghanistan. Tom, the president has sent 21,000 more troops there earlier this year. How do they measure progress? And are they making any?
TOM BOWMAN: Well, they're making some progress in places like Helmand province. The Marines are opening up patrol bases. They're reopening markets there, working with local officials. But everyone we talk with here says, listen, there's still a lot of work to do.
SIEGEL: General McChrystal says they don't have enough troops to do the job. What do you see there that illustrates the need for more troops?
BOWMAN: Well, we hear that from everyone. And the Marines say they'll likely need thousands more troops to provide security in the areas of Helmand where the Taliban and drug traffickers are in control. Now thousands of more troops - they already have 10,000 here, but they say they need more. And here's Sergeant Richard Lacey(ph). We met him in a patrol base along the Helmand River Valley.
SIEGEL: Right now, our battalion is covering an area that two or three battalions could cover and still have a hard time covering it. We hold what ground we have and we push out but we can only push so far. And they're in those spots where we're not and they just come in and do hit-and-runs basically.
BOWMAN: So, the Marines are doing the best they can to protect the population. There are some successes, but other areas, like creating more Afghan soldiers and police, you know, making sure the Afghan government provides services to the population - everything from clean water to courts - there's still a long way to go on those areas.
SIEGEL: Tom, I want to ask you your sense from covering the war in Afghanistan of what success and failure mean to the people there. First, failure: What does failure look like in this war?
BOWMAN: Well, clearly for the United States failure is al-Qaida returning to safe havens in Afghanistan, building up their strength again, the ability to plan and launch attacks on the United States and also the Taliban returning to power, you know - short of that, growing Taliban influence throughout the country, more fighting and of course, more and more American casualties.
SIEGEL: So, absent the American casualties, the status quo pre-9/11 is what failure would look like?
BOWMAN: Exactly. You're right.
SIEGEL: What about success? Well, what does success look like in Afghanistan?
BOWMAN: You know, what's interesting, the Obama administration, I think, has kind of lowered its sights now. You know, there's no longer a lot of talk about democracy, a shining city on a hill in Afghanistan. I think what they hope for is just some sort of stability where Afghan security forces can protect the population, and American troops can start going home and the government can start providing services to the people.
SIEGEL: Assuming that there are successes in the future and assuming that there are more U.S. troops in the future, how far off do people see that kind of success that you've just described - a couple of years off, 10 years off, 30 years off?
BOWMAN: Well, you know, it's interesting, you know, generals I talk with both here and in Washington, they're looking at three to five years. Most people I talk with in the field say that's overly optimistic. They're looking at upwards of a decade.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Tom.
BOWMAN: You're welcome.
SIEGEL: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman speaking to us from Afghanistan where he's with U.S. troops.