MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
We remain committed. Those words today from secretary of Defense Robert Gates, talking about the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan one day after the architect of that strategy, General Stanley McChrystal, resigned his command. Secretary Gates said this.
Secretary ROBERT GATES (Defense Department): My primary concern over the past few days has been to minimize the impact of these developments on the conduct of the war in Afghanistan. The president's decisions fully and satisfactorily address that concern. This is the best possible outcome to an awful situation.
SIEGEL: It falls to General McChrystal's replacement, General David Petraeus, to carry on the mission. We're going to hear now about two of the challenges he will face. In a moment, training Afghan security forces.
First, NPR's Tom Bowman is in Afghanistan and reports on that country's broken government.
TOM BOWMAN: Thousands of American troops will fan out across Kandahar province this summer to take on Taliban fighters. Afghan officials, meanwhile, are hoping for just a few hundred bureaucrats to run the government here.
Unidentified Man: (speaking foreign language)
BOWMAN: That was the opening statement at a conference here in Kandahar earlier this week. More than 100 American and Afghan officials gathered to talk about the upcoming military operation. But pretty soon the discussion shifted from troops to government workers. Right now, some government offices in the province barely have a skeleton staff.
Governor TOORYALAI WESA (Kandahar): Now we have in some districts we have only district governor with the police chief.
BOWMAN: That's Kandahar's governor, Tooryalai Wesa, and he's pretty modest about what he's looking for.
Gov. WESA: So if you could at least have an attorney there, a prosecutor or a judge, or a finance guy, that is the plan to have those in the next couple of months.
BOWMAN: We talked to the governor in an old palace, though the building feels more like a cross between a middle school and a minimum security prison. Inside, American military officers mingled with Afghan tribal leaders and government officials.
One of them, Jelani Popol, is a cabinet minister in Kabul. He's in charge of working with local governments. The problem here is there aren't many.
Mr. JELANI POPOL (Cabinet Minister, Kabul): The�major obstacle for recruiting the bureaucrats is the security, because they are not sure about the security.
BOWMAN: There's good reason not to be sure. Just last week, a district leader was killed in a car bomb in downtown Kandahar. Even low-level government workers like police are being targeted for assassination.
Popol is trying to sweeten his job offers with hardship pay, extra money to work in dangerous areas.
Mr. POPOL: We will provide additional incentives and allowances for the people to attract more qualified people to this job.
BOWMAN: Kandahar isn't the only dangerous area in Afghanistan where it's hard to recruit government workers. Just to the west of here in Helmand province, U.S. Marines are still clearing Taliban areas after a major offensive in February. And Popol is still short nearly half the bureaucrats he needs.
Mr. POPOL: Things are improving, but still we have to deal with some issues, like restoring the full confidence of the people that the government stay there and not leaving them again to the Taliban, this kind of thing.
BOWMAN: The lack of government workers is more than an annoyance. It's a key reason the insurgency is so strong. Here's a top NATO official in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill.
Mr. MARK SEDWILL (NATO Official, Afghanistan): Can their kids get to school? Is the school open? Can their wife go in the streets without fear? Is a policeman a reassuring presence or not? If they have a dispute with a neighbor, can they get that dispute resolved without paying a bribe? All those issues are the ones in the end that will determine success.
BOWMAN: And that success can only come from a responsive government, says Sedwill. That's why it's one of the key measures of whether the war is going well.
Mr. SEDWILL: And that of course will show people that in the end, this isn't endless, that there is a strategy that enables us to hand responsibility to the Afghans, which is what they want, too.
BOWMAN:�There's a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here: Good government works only when there's security. But without a working government, it's harder to provide security. That's because without bureaucrats, there's no public spending and no public works jobs. So the Taliban quickly moves in to fill that void. They pay teenagers to plant roadside bombs or at least keep tabs on U.S. and Afghan troops. A lack of money is another problem. International aid organizations are scooping up educated Afghans in Kandahar, offering salaries that far exceed a government paycheck.
Governor Wesa, who we met at the conference, says he'll try and recruit throughout the country, maybe even overseas, in the coming months. After all, Wesa, who was raised in Kandahar, spent nearly two decades as a college professor in Canada.
Gov. WESA: My recommendation from the very beginning is to bring the former Afghans living overseas - Canada, United States, Europe, Australia, those are full of experienced, educated Afghans.
BOWMAN: Right now, many of those experienced educated Afghans are not working as district judges or finance officers. They're working as translators for the U.S. Army, making as much as $200,000 a year.
Tom Bowman, NPR News, Kandahar, Afghanistan.