Military Aspect Of Obama Plan Examined

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President Obama said he had asked U.S. allies in Afghanistan to back the effort with more troops, warning that global security was at stake. Obama's plan involves more robust training of the Afghan military.


And to help us unpack some of the policies and policy shifts that were spelled out in tonight's speech, I'm joined here in the studio by NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman.

Tom, first, let's talk about training. What sort of changes will we be seeing in terms of how we train the Afghan military and the Afghan police forces?

TOM BOWMAN: Well, particularly the military you're going to see a much more robust training effort. That's what General McChrystal wanted. So you're going to have American forces train them, but also live with them, eat with them, sleep with them and then roll out with them on operations. So it's going to be seamless. It's something different than what we have now.

The police is a much more difficult effort. It's really hard to recruit these folks, the illiteracy rate, the corruption, the drug use among the police is rampant. When I was in Helmand province just a few weeks ago, I was talking to the Marine commander there, Brigadier General Larry Nicholson, he told me he would get rid of 40 percent of the police he has there, because of these reasons. It's a real problem.

It's going to take a long time to train up these soldiers, Afghan soldiers and police. In my sense it's going to take a lot longer than the three to five years they estimate it will take. Some say it could take as long as a decade to get this force up and running. One thing the president didn't mention was this no sense of how many Afghan forces will be trained and how long it will take.

What General McChrystal wants is to have 400,000 police and soldiers - double that number by 2013. There's no mention of that number anymore. The Pentagon and others seem to be backing away from that number. And one reason is they're worried about the cost of this how much it will cost the Afghan government to sustain this.

NORRIS: Now, a lot of numbers we're throwing around, but the one that people are going to seize on is the one they heard from the president tonight, that he wants to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in 2011, 18 months from now. Is that enough time to carry this out?

BOWMAN: Well, the one thing we don't know is how many troops can he start withdrawing in 18 months. There's going to be over 100,000 American troops there by next summer. The summer after that he could withdraw one brigade, four to 5,000 and say he is starting to withdraw the troops home. That's what we don't know. And, again, the most important thing he said: This all depends on conditions on the ground.

NORRIS: You spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, what do you suppose the people there made of the speech tonight?

BOWMAN: The Afghan people?

NORRIS: No, the troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

BOWMAN: Well, a lot of the troops I talk with over there in Helmand province and in Kandahar said: We need a lot more help to expand our reach out into both provinces and to go after the Taliban. They said we clearly don't have enough force right now to do that job.

NORRIS: Tom, thanks so much. That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

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