STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In Monday's foreign policy debate, Mitt Romney agreed with President Obama on many things, including America's exit strategy from Afghanistan. Both want to make Afghan forces take the lead fighting for their country. But as NPR's Tom Bowman reports, too often the job still falls to U.S. troops.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: A senior officer in Afghanistan tells NPR that Americans are still coddling Afghan forces; that we must stop. Tough love is in, this officer said. They are far more capable than we give them credit for. They're used to us doing everything for them. Americans doing everything for the Afghans, that's what it looked like back in May of this year. Just outside the city of Kandahar, Sergeant Matthew McMurray and his platoon joined Afghan troops on a patrol.
The Americans prodded the Afghans to get out front and search homes for insurgents. Later, Sergeant McMurray was asked if the Afghan soldiers were ready.
SERGEANT MATTHEW MCMURRAY: I think it'll take a long, long time. We have to keep pushing them.
BOWMAN: Is that frustrating?
MCMURRAY: Very frustrating.
BOWMAN: That sounds familiar to Seth Jones. He's a defense analyst at the RAND Corporation and just returned from Afghanistan.
SETH JONES: Overall, the Americans are still conducting a lot of operations in Afghanistan right now.
BOWMAN: So the Americans are in the lead.
JONES: So I would say, today still, in terms of combat operations, the Americans are at least in many operations in the lead.
BOWMAN: Many operations in the South and East where the Taliban insurgency is the strongest. In those areas, only 30 to 40 percent of Afghan battalions are what American officials term independent. Top commanders are more optimistic. Canadian Brigadier General Thomas Putt is director of development for the Afghan security forces. He says the Afghans are vastly better than they were five years ago.
GENERAL THOMAS PUTT: You know, I was out watching between eight and nine thousand soldiers and policemen operating together in multi-brigade level operations that I had never ever seen before.
BOWMAN: Others say that's exactly the point, that if the Afghan forces are getting better, they should be planning missions and doing the bulk of the fighting. To make that happen, and some U.S. officers are now making this case, American troops can't keep doing everything for them. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.