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This past year, we've been bringing you stories of some of the heaviest fighting in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban government back in 2001. More than 3,000 Marines are being sent to Afghanistan in the coming weeks to help in that fight. And there are calls for more NATO forces.

In this fourth part of our series on Afghanistan, NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman explains that military muscle is the least important answer to the troubles in Afghanistan.

TOM BOWMAN: Several weeks ago a large team of highly trained American soldiers quietly slipped into the area around Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. Their specialty? Farming.

Lieutenant General CLYDE VAUGHAN (U.S. Army): Actually, the size of the unit is 50, and 10 are actual farmers.

BOWMAN: That's Lieutenant General Clyde Vaughan, the number two officer in the National Guard. Like him, all those soldiers came from Missouri and their mission is to lend a hand to fellow Afghan farmers - with improved seed, irrigation, storage - even butchering technique.

Lt. Gen. VAUGHAN: The tribal chieftains that we were with says, look, we've lost a generation of farmers and we're worried about our youngsters. And we have better than 70 percent of the country that live on these farms, so how about helping us out?

BOWMAN: Military officials say the only way to turn Afghanistan around are programs like this that make life better for the Afghan people. They say tangible results will separate them from the Taliban insurgents, who are mounting more attacks and making inroads in the countryside against the Afghan government.

Retired Lieutenant General David Barno was the top commander in Afghanistan until 2005. He says those who focus too much on combat power miss the point.

Lieutenant General DAVID BARNO (Retired, U.S. Army): The common view of most, about - from most thoughtful people on counterinsurgencies is that only 20 percent of a counterinsurgency effort is military. Eighty percent is other sectors. It's the political sector, the social sector, maybe the health sector. Certainly the economic sector.

BOWMAN: But it's that 80 percent of the effort that is stalling in Afghanistan - maybe falling behind, say Barno and others. Militarily, the Taliban militants are losing battles and have lost many top and mid-level commanders.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (United States Secretary of Defense): So I would say that while we have been successful militarily, that the other aspects of development in Afghanistan have not proceeded as well.

BOWMAN: Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress recently that rebuilding Afghanistan suffers from two problems. One is with the Afghan government.

Sec. GATES: Clearly the counter-narcotics is a problem, corruption is a problem. The ability of the government to get services to countryside is a problem. Effectiveness of government ministries in many cases is a problem.

BOWMAN: The other problem, Gates says, is a lack of coordination for the billions of dollars in international aid meant to get down to the village level.

Sec. GATES: There are some 40 partner nations active in Afghanistan, not to mention hundreds of nongovernmental organizations. There is no overarching strategy. There is no coordinating body that looks at what's working best and what's not working and shares those experiences. Or that coordinates and says, you need to focus on electricity and you need to focus on roads.

BOWMAN: Both NATO and the United Nations in recent weeks settled on an international envoy to do just that. Lord Paddy Ashdown, a former British Parliament member who won praise for a similar job - international high representative for Bosnia. Ashdown's name was submitted to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Lord PADDY ASHDOWN (International High Representative for Bosnia): To my absolute dismay, President Karzai rejected the idea.

BOWMAN: And why did he object?

Lord ASHDOWN: I have not idea. I have no idea.

BOWMAN: Retired Marine General Jim Jones served as the top commander of NATO and was a strong supporter of Ashdown. Jones has just written a report saying the future of Afghanistan will be determined by progress or failure in the civil sector.

The problem goes far beyond just a coordinator for international aid, Jones says, or a more effective Afghan government. It's also about other governments living up to their commitments. The European Union tapped Great Britain to take the lead on dealing with Afghanistan's ever-growing narcotics trade. Italy was to lead on creating a judiciary, Germany with a police force.

General JIM JONES (Retired, U.S. Marines): The countries, what they signed up to do, was to take the lead - the strategic lead. But the rest of the international community just walked away from it.

BOWMAN: Jones says that lack of interest has an immediate effect in Afghanistan.

Gen. JONES: And so as a result every year we hear of record poppy harvests. Every year we hear of corruption in the judicial system and drug lords who are arrested, tried, put in jail and three months later the convictions are overturned. And with the police, it's just a question of just not enough capacity, not enough training.

BOWMAN: Defense Secretary Gates will set out for a NATO meeting in Bucharest next month, trying to get the allies to do more in Afghanistan. And additional names for an international aid coordinator are being submitted to President Karzai.

Meanwhile, another National Guard team is gearing up to head to Afghanistan - soldier farmers from Texas.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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