Afghan Forces To Take Over Security Responsibilities

During his speech at West Point on Tuesday night, President Obama warned the Afghan government that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended. He said that ultimately, Afghanistan will have to take responsibility for its own security.

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President Obama had different audiences for his speech last night. One was at West Point, where he announced his decision to send 30,000 additional American troops to Afghanistan. Another audience was half a world away in Kabul. The president said the U.S. is not writing a blank check for Afghans, who will ultimately have to provide their own security.

NPR's Jackie Northam is in Kabul and his this report on the reaction to the speech.

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JACKIE NORTHAM: President Obama's announcement was the top story on the morning news broadcasts here in Afghanistan.

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Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)

NORTHAM: The main headline was that the U.S. would be sending tens of thousands of additional troops into Afghanistan, confirming the rumor that had been circulating here for the past few weeks. Many Afghans, such as General Nubbi Mulahale(ph), a police commander along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, applauded President Obama's decision.

General NUBBI MULAHALE (Afghan Police Commander): (Through translator) Peace comes when there is force. If the opposition thinks you're weak, they will never understand your peaceful ideas. They will think you are talking from a very weak position. In order to bring peace, it is very important to use your power and convince the opposition to be ready for peace talks.

NORTHAM: For Mulahale, the additional troops will be critical in the increasing fight against Islamist militants, many of whom slip into Afghanistan across the porous border with Pakistan in his region. But many other Afghans think sending in additional troops will only exacerbate the Taliban problem.

Mr. HOMA YUN HASHIMI(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

NORTHAM: Homa Yun Hashimi runs a popular restaurant in the heart of Kabul.

Mr. HASHIMI: (Through translator) If they send more troops, what will happen to our country? The situation will get worse. The foreign troops have been here a long time. What have they done?

NORTHAM: One of the key goals of injecting more U.S. troops is to build and train Afghan security forces. It's seen as one of the building blocks to the eventual U.S. withdrawal. Until now, that effort has been uneven at best. U.S. military officials don't want to put a timeline on handing over security to the Afghans. But they do say that in the future there will be a focus on partnering Afghan forces with the new U.S. troops coming into the country.

That's good news for U.S. Marine Brigadier General Larry Nicholson. He's the commander in Helmand, where Marines launched an aggressive operation to clear the southern province of militants. Finding enough Afghan troops to help with the operation has been a problem. Nicholson hopes the new strategy will help change that.

General LARRY NICHOLSON (U.S. Marine Corps): I think we're seeing some real evidence here of the willingness to expand their force footprint down in the south here. We understand that there's probably nothing more important that we're doing or will do than taking these forces and working with them, mentoring with them, and making them more capable.

NORTHAM: Strengthening the resolve of the tattered Afghan army is one of the indicators the U.S. will be looking for to gauge the commitment of the government under President Hamid Karzai. During his address, President Obama sent a clear and public warning to Karzai that U.S. involvement in Afghanistan was not open-ended. Mr. Obama said that American troops would begin withdrawing in the summer of 2011. That may suit political concerns back home, but in Afghanistan there have long been questions about the extent of the U.S commitment. Many Afghans will perceive President Obama's statement as the U.S. heading towards the door, says Dalood Saltinzoi(ph), a member of parliament for the district of Ghazni.

Mr. DALOOD SALTINZOI (Afghan Parliamentarian): I'm very concerned that when the Pakistani circles and the al-Qaeda and the Taliban hear that statement, they already will feel victorious. This statement to them may sound like the statement of a bogged down America.

NORTHAM: Still, Saltinzoid says it's good the U.S. has a new strategy and that there's another chance to bring stability and security to Afghanistan.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Kabul.

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