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We know that President Obama plans to send more troops to Afghanistan. We don't know exactly what they'll do or the strategy they will follow. And as we'll hear in this part of the program, there are many, many people with opinions and influence in Afghanistan. In fact, coordinating all the players is a massive problem by itself.

NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Here's a quick rundown of the players today in Afghanistan:

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Department of Defense): More than 40 nations, hundreds of NGOs, universities, development banks, the United Nations, the European Union, NATO and more.

KELLY: That's Defense Secretary Robert Gates talking. Gates told Congress recently that working with so many partners has been, quote, "difficult, to say the least."

Sec. GATES: Unlike in Iraq, where we basically - Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus were essentially able to put together an integrated strategy because we were doing most of the work. The situation is much more complex in Afghanistan.

KELLY: Retired Lieutenant General David Barno has firsthand knowledge of that complexity. Barno was the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan until 2005. He just returned to southern Afghanistan for an update. Barno says the first and foremost challenge there will be to unify what he calls a diverse and fragmented NATO undertaking.

Among military leaders, General Barno says, there are way too many different plans for fighting the insurgents. And then there's the question of how 17,000 new U.S. troops will change the equation.

Lieutenant General DAVID BARNO (Retired; Former Senior U.S. Commander, Afghanistan): One of the things I heard as I visited each of the different national contingents there was commentary about, and a bit of trepidation about the upcoming American tsunami, as they described it.

KELLY: And President Obama hasn't ruled out sending even more troops down the road.

Lt. Gen. BARNO: How that changes the strategy, how that changes the ground footprint, what campaign plan those forces are going to execute and then how our allies will be a part of that campaign plan and share in that, those are all critical questions that are really somewhat unanswered right now.

KELLY: On the diplomatic side, the landscape may be even more complicated. Among the heavyweights competing for influence on Afghanistan, there's Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, who is the president's pick for ambassador to Kabul. There's National Security Adviser James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general and former NATO commander. There's Richard Holbrooke, the new U.S. envoy to the region. The British have just named their own special envoy, and the United Nations has increased money and staff for its special representative in Afghanistan: a Norwegian man named Kai Eide.

Which brings us to the question of what role should be played by the man who is, at least nominally, running Afghanistan? That's Afghan President Hamid Karzai. General Dan McNeill tells a good story about this.

General DAN MCNEILL (Former Commander, NATO Forces in Afghanistan): Early in 2007, I was in the president's office, and he dismissed everyone except me.

KELLY: In 2007, General McNeill was the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. But that day, Karzai wanted to talk about an earlier time, back around 2002.

Gen. MCNEILL: And he made some comments about, well, it was easier then. I didn't recall it that way, so I sort of laughed. And he said, oh, yeah. It was much easier then. He said, you know, today it's so difficult. I said, what's difficult about today? You've got a lot more help. The country has already seen a lot of reconstruction. I said, what is it that bothers you? And he looked at me, he said: So many messengers. What's the message?

KELLY: And what was your answer?

Gen. MCNEILL: I did not answer it. That was a question that should have been better put to some diplomat. That's not exactly the question you put to a soldier.

KELLY: Maybe not, but it does illuminate how many different groups and personalities are trying to influence the outcome in Afghanistan. That's a problem President Obama here in Washington can probably relate to. He has no shortage of messengers himself as he tries to figure out the way forward in Afghanistan. Four separate reports are landing on Mr. Obama's desk from the White House, the Pentagon, a separate one from General Petraeus, now the top American commander in the region, and a big picture review to pull it all together. The president has ordered all the Afghanistan reports done in the next few weeks, in time for him to consult with European allies at the NATO Summit in April.

Mary Louise Kelly, NPR News, Washington.

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