NATO's Afghan Trade School Underscores Challenge The official opening of a Western-built trade school in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan this past weekend is part of NATO's "hearts and mind" campaign. But even with the base's fortifications, local officials say the students who attend aren't safe and are in danger of being killed by the Taliban.
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NATO's Afghan Trade School Underscores Challenge

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NATO's Afghan Trade School Underscores Challenge

NATO's Afghan Trade School Underscores Challenge

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

We're going to Afghanistan for this next story where NATO soldiers wear Dari- language patches that pledge help and cooperation. For the past five years, Western nations have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to fulfill that pledge. But getting Western help to Afghans is not so easy. And when it doesn't reach them, the consequences can be dire.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from the southern province of Uruzgan.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: The sounds of a military exercise were not what organizers had in mind last weekend for the formal opening of a trade school for young Afghan men in the southern province of Uruzgan.

Building the single-story, white school on a NATO base outside the provincial capital Tarin Kwot and surrounding it with sand bags, barriers, and razor wire, wasn't their preferred choice either. But the safety measures and ill-timed exercise highlight the quandary facing western forces in provinces like Uruzgan - how to do meaningful reconstruction and provide security while beating back the Taliban.

To hear local leaders like Malowi Humdella(ph) tell it, NATO is failing at all three. The respected mullah was invited by NATO to deliver the prayer at the school-opening ceremony. He did so and then launched into an unexpected diatribe.

MALOWI HUMDELLA, Host:

(Through translator) The honorable people of Oruzgan province have been taken hostage in the claws of the enemy. For the sake of God, you officials helped us have a better life. Our people need reconstruction. Our people need jobs. You should find a way to free them.

SARHADDI NELSON: The Pashto of Humdella, who heads Oruzgan's shura, or council, were not translated for the largely Western audience. Nevertheless, his plea set the tone for Afghan officials who spoke after him.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

SARHADDI NELSON: Each described the growing Taliban menace in this province that is the birthplace of the group's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Each described the mounting despair of the 300,000-plus Afghans who live here. They told of people being unable to travel to neighboring villages because anywhere between 40 and 60 percent of the province is controlled by the Taliban, and officials complained that not enough schools, roads or wells are being built to meet basic needs.

But Dutch Major General Tom van Loon, commander of NATO-led troops in Southern Afghanistan, urged patience, noting that reconstruction teams have only been here for six months.

TOM VAN LOON: I'm quite sure that there are some areas where we do not have full control, where the government does not have full control yet, and that's what we need to work on. But you have to start somewhere, and this is where we started.

SARHADDI NELSON: Oruzgan legislator Muhammad Hasheen Watanwal(ph) says that NATO isn't doing enough. Watanwal says after the years U.S.-led forces have spent cleaning the Taliban out of Oruzgan, his province is now falling back into insurgents' hands. He says the Taliban use bribes, intimidation and violence to force Pashtun elders to turn their villages over to insurgents.

The legislator who prepared an in-depth report on the problems facing Oruzgan also accuses Karzai's advisers of ignoring widespread corruption within the province. He is especially critical of the governor, a former Taliban official.

MUHAMMAD HASHEEN WATANWAL: (Through translator) All the central government wants to present is a handful of lies, and NATO forces go to the districts, bomb and destroy villages but then withdraw, not leaving any soldiers in place. So then the Taliban come back and accuse the people of being spies for NATO.

SARHADDI NELSON: Oruzgan's governor, the former Taliban official, failed to show up for the opening of the school here. His education director and chief of police also stayed away, and the governor declined to be interviewed. But President Hamid Karzai's office rejects claims of corruption and deteriorating security.

Spokesman Halik Ahmed(ph) describes Oruzgan's governor as a good man. He says things are much better in the province than they were a year ago.

HALIK AHMED: Oruzgan is one of the four provinces that is high on our list, and we are doing right now the most we can to improve these problems.

SARHADDI NELSON: Legislator Watanwal accuses Karzai's government of having blinders on. He wants the U.S. and NATO to pressure the Afghan leader to take a closer look at what is happening in Oruzgan and other war-torn provinces. Otherwise, Watanwal says, he fears the Taliban will win.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Tarin Kowt.

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