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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

Renee Montagne is on assignment in Afghanistan. And while she's there, NPR's Linda Wertheimer is back in our studios.

Linda, good morning.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Good morning to you, Steve, and to everybody.

Weve reported extensively on the U.S. military units that are fanning out across southern Afghanistan, gearing up for combat operations against Taliban forces. But efforts to stabilize that nation also depend on Afghans who can run the government and build the country's weak or non-existent institutions. We'll have two stories this morning.

We'll begin with NPR's Tom Bowman, who reports that Afghan civil servants needed to manage that government are extremely hard to recruit.

TOM BOWMAN: Marine General Richard Mills commands some 20,000 Marines in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province. Helmand is a haven for Taliban fighters. The Marines' mission is to provide security so people can live normal lives. What General Mills really needs though are a few good Afghan bureaucrats to back him up.

General RICHARD MILLS (U.S. Marine Corps): It's a difficult thing to do - it's difficult to attract talented civil servants.

BOWMAN: That's the situation in Helmand Province. It's the same story in Kandahar, the next province over. The governor there, whose name is Tooryalai Wesa, is also having trouble finding civil servants.

Mr. TOORYALAI WESA (Governor, Kandahar): Now we have in some districts, we have only district governor with a police chief. So if you could at least have an attorney there, a prosecutor or a judge or a finance guy...

BOWMAN: U.S. officials say the Afghan government has only filled about one quarter of those key government jobs in Kandahar Province, and they say Helmand Province isn't much better.

The question is why. It's not like Afghans aren't being trained to work for their government. There's a civil service training institute in Kabul, funded by the U.S. and other countries, that's graduating thousands of would-be bureaucrats.

Mr. EARL GAST (U.S. Agency for International Development): Right now they've reached 11,000.

BOWMAN: That's Earl Gast, who runs the Afghanistan programs for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Mr. GAST: And the target is to get to 15,000 or 16,000 trained civil servants before the end of the year.

BOWMAN: Trained, but not filling jobs where they're most needed. Gast says there's a simple reason why many of them won't work in Helmand or Kandahar.

Mr. GAST: Because if you work for the government especially, you've got a target on your back.

BOWMAN: These two provinces are where the worst of the fighting is. A Kandahar district governor was killed by a car bomb this summer; there's been a surge of assassinations of local government workers in Helmand Province.

U.S. officials have responded by building secure dormitories where government workers can live, and the Afghan government is providing hardship pay to work in the provinces. But U.S. officials say the government jobs are still a tough sell.

Security isn't the only obstacle. The U.S. government, it turns out, is part of the problem. The American military and the State Department are scooping up the best-educated Afghans to work as translators, for example. One senior American officer, who asked not to be named, said, quote, "The smartest and most educated Afghans I met were all working for us, not exactly a blueprint for the way we ought to be doing this."

A top American civilian official agrees.

Mr. ALEX THIER (USAID): We are competing in some ways with the Afghan government for staff.

BOWMAN: Alex Thier is in charge of USAID's Office on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr. THIER: We do pay more, often, than the Afghan government civil service salary.

BOWMAN: What do they make? What's the average salary?

Mr. THIER: It varies. I think Afghan government civil servants tend to make anywhere between 50 to 200 dollars a month, depending on their level.

BOWMAN: Two hundred a month. That's $2,400 a year. Afghan translators can make $80,000 a year working for the Americans.

Private relief organizations, known as NGOs, are also luring Afghans with better salaries. That's one more group that Governor Wesa has to compete against.

Mr. WESA: Because the government cannot afford the salaries the NGOs pays for that, the international NGOs, so that will be a challenge.

BOWMAN: Thier says the U.S. and its allies are trying to fix all that by providing more money to help Afghanistan fatten those government salaries. And he hopes as security improves, more Afghan civil servants will agree to take up positions in Helmand and Kandahar.

But there's another largely untapped source of talent that Governor Wesa and others are trying to attract.

Mr. WESA: My recommendation from the very beginning is to bring the former Afghans living overseas - Canada, United States, Europe, Australia - those are full of former, experienced, educated Afghans.

BOWMAN: Governor Wesa himself was a college professor in Canada before returning to his homeland two years ago. He hopes other Afghans will follow his lead, driven by patriotism - rather than a paycheck.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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