How Is President Trump's Security Strategy Working In Afghanistan?
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Let's get an update now on how the new U.S. strategy for Afghanistan is going. When President Trump announced it last month, he said, quote, "we are not nation building. We are killing terrorists." As for the U.S. troops headed to or already in Afghanistan, Trump said they deserve, quote, "a plan for victory." Let's bring in the voice of NPR's Tom Bowman, who is in Afghanistan. Hey there, Tom.
TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So you have reported for us from Afghanistan many times. And I want to bring your experience to bear on this conversation. This is the first time you have been to the country since President Trump announced his new war plan. What have you seen so far that strikes you?
BOWMAN: Well, a little background first. Right now about 40 percent of Afghanistan is either under Taliban control or up for grabs. The Americans are mostly in a training role now with the Afghans doing pretty much most of the fighting. Now, there have been a lot of American airstrikes to target the Taliban and take back territory. That's part of the Trump plan. They're trying to reverse what is a stalemate. So I sat down with one American officer, Brigadier General Chuck Aris.
He commands the American training unit down in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Now, when I was in Kandahar last year, we went on a night operation with American Green Berets and Afghan Commandos. They were trying to disrupt the Taliban trying to control a key highway in the mountains. So I asked the General for an update on what's going on there.
BRIGADIER GENERAL CHUCK ARIS: The Taliban continue to try to cut off the main route. But so far, they've been unsuccessful. They've had a number of attacks on checkpoints, but they haven't held it for more than a day or so.
BOWMAN: So a year later, that area is still not secure, Mary Louise. And the regular Afghan army needs a lot of help from their more trained fighters, their Commandos, and also those American airstrikes, which have doubled in the past year.
KELLY: Let me follow up on something you said, which is American troops are supposed to be there as trainers, not in combat roles. How is that going? I mean, that is a transition that the U.S. military has been trying to make for years.
BOWMAN: That's absolutely right. Now, it's important to note that the American military turned over some of these areas to the Afghans in 2012 after years of bitter fighting and high American casualties. Now, I want you to listen to two American officers, Mary Louise, I spoke with five years ago.
BOWMAN: The first one was in Helmand Province next door to Kandahar. Here's Lieutenant Colonel Michael Styskal talking about the Afghan forces.
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LIEUTENANT COLONEL MICHAEL STYSKAL: I think they want us to leave. They're ready for it.
BOWMAN: And clearly they were not ready for it. The place he's talking about in Helmand, a district called Marja, is now under Taliban control. Now, in eastern Afghanistan in 2012, I spoke with Colonel Michael Stock about the transition to the Afghans from the American troops.
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COLONEL MICHAEL STOCK: What keeps me up at night is how we transition this. And part of that transition is us backing off, enabling our partners to do it without us and still be successful.
KELLY: All right, so those voices from five years ago describing an effort that is still very much a work in progress. Are there specific things we should be watching to try to gauge the impact of the new U.S. strategy?
BOWMAN: Well, first of all, can the Afghan army take back more territory from the Taliban with the assistance of those U.S. airstrikes, which are very, very important? And also, again, they're looking at increasing the size of that Afghan Commando force. Remember, those are the best fighters. That's starting soon but could take a while. And the other thing is the Afghans are planning on creating still another force called the Afghan Territorial Force.
This will be sort of like a national guard. Hundreds will be trained to secure their home villages and towns. That training is going to start next month.
KELLY: NPR's Tom Bowman reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan. Thanks so much, Tom. Stay safe.
BOWMAN: Will do, thanks.
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