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Building Infrastructure, Security Key For Afghanistan

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Building Infrastructure, Security Key For Afghanistan

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Building Infrastructure, Security Key For Afghanistan

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This week we've been examining the war across Pakistan's border. The Obama administration is reviewing strategy in Afghanistan. We've been looking this week at some big questions like who's the enemy and how the Pentagon is lowering expectations. Today, we report on what it takes to make a new strategy work. Here's NPR's Tom Bowman.

TOM BOWMAN: First things first. Afghanistan needs to be made more secure. One part of the country where violence has increased is in the South. That's the stronghold of the Taliban. General David McKiernan, the top commander, describes the situation this way.

General DAVID MCKIERNAN (NATO Commander): An area where we do not have sufficient security presence, an area that has deteriorated somewhat, an area where we need persistent security presence in order to fight a counterinsurgency.

BOWMAN: So McKiernan has been pressing for more than a year for more troops, thousands more. He got some of what he asked for. President Obama has approved sending 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

President BARACK OBAMA: Good morning, Marines.

(Soundbite of Marines responding)

President OBAMA: Good morning, Camp Lejeune.

(Soundbite of cheers)

BOWMAN: Just a few weeks ago, the president traveled to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Eight thousand Marines there were supposed to go to Iraq. Instead, by May they'll be beefing up McKiernan's force. He'll position them along side British troops in the southern province of Helmand.

General McKiernan has plans for the other new troops as well. In Kandahar province, 4,000 American soldiers will work with Canadian forces. Defense officials hope these additional U.S. troops can stabilize Afghanistan within the next three to five years. That would address the first of the so-called concrete goals that Defense Secretary Robert Gates talks about. So that's a security challenge.

Another goal, helping Afghanistan develop. That means billions more dollars for roads, electricity, schools, irrigation for farms. This is not a new idea. Last fall when I was in Afghanistan, I talked with Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Brett Sharp at a remote camp in eastern Afghanistan. His job was to build a road to cut through the mountains.

Lt. Col. BRETT SHARP (U.S. Air Force): It's going to be the main artery from Gardez to Khost and provide a connection between Pakistan and the ports that are in Pakistan all the way through those provinces up to Kabul, so it will increase economic development throughout the entire southeast region.

BOWMAN: Sharp has since left his post. He turned over the job of building the road to another Air Force officer.

That's the pattern and the problem: The task of fighting and building Afghanistan has largely fallen to the military. Now there's a big push to get more civilians to help out.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (U.S. Department of Defense): I would say that really where we need the help as we look to the weeks and months ahead is on the civilian side.

BOWMAN: That's Defense Secretary Gates talking with NPR earlier this week.

Secretary GATES: Whether it's agricultural specialists or people who can help with governance, economic development, and so on.

BOWMAN: Some of those civilians are on their way. General McKiernan says dozens of FBI and Drug Enforcement agents are coming to help go after Afghan drug labs and traffickers, a key funding source for the Taliban.

But he says that's just a start. If the military is sending thousands more soldiers and Marines, civilians have to step up too.

General MCKIERNAN: There has to be a parallel commitment of civilian capacity-building.

BOWMAN: That's a pitch President Obama is expected to make to NATO allies at a summit next month in France - send more civilian government experts, as well as others from private organizations and universities.

Those extra civilians, together with the military, will press ahead on another concrete goal President Obama talks about for Afghanistan: a more responsible government.

President OBAMA: You do not see that yet in Afghanistan. They've got elections coming up, but effectively the national government seems very detached from what's going on in the surrounding community.

BOWMAN: Local Afghans would choose a harsher word to describe President Hamid Karzai's government: corrupt. They say it's not providing even basic services and that Karzai's hand-picked officials are stealing government funds or demanding payoffs, right down to police and customs agents.

Here the solution isn't more troops or dollars, it's politics — like working more with local leaders and tribal chiefs instead of just the national government. And it means pushing President Karzai to do a better job of governing, prodding him to fire corrupt officials.

An outline of the Obama administration's new strategy is expected later this month.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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