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Hope for Obama plan in fortress Kabul

By Mark Dummett
BBC News, Kabul

It is easy to tell that this war is not going well for the Afghan government and its foreign allies.

Afghan policeman stands guard in front of the fortified gate of the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs on 8 March
The defences in Kabul betray the deteriorating security situation

More than ever, Kabul city centre resembles a fortress. In the two years since I was last here more roads have been closed off, and the blast barriers around embassies and government buildings have grown thicker and higher.

Nato troops still patrol the city in full combat gear, and, judging by the number of armed guards standing on the streets, this is a boom time for private security firms.

But the response to the worsening security situation in the city is lopsided. This is now a city of four million people, but the police force numbers only 4,000.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, the security forces are even more stretched.

'Enable the Afghans '

US President Barack Obama's announcement that they will receive more resources and more training will therefore be welcome news for many, not least the Afghan Defence Minister Gen Abdul Rahim Wardak.

An Afghan girl leads her donkey to get water in Kabul last Sunday
Afghans want to see changes in their daily lives

"Since the beginning in 2002 I have been telling everyone that the most cost-effective way for our friends and allies, and politically the less complex way, and the way to save the lives of our friends and allies, is to enable the Afghans themselves," he told me before President Obama spoke.

"That is the only sustainable way to secure Afghanistan. It will take some time to train and equip a bigger force, but I that think once it is completed the gradual draw down of international forces can start," he said.

The head of the international forces in the country, Gen David McKeirnon, is also keen to emphasis the vital role that the Afghan security forces increasingly are able to play.

'Bottom-up approach'

The day before President Obama's announcement, he was at the graduation ceremony for the first units of the Afghan Public Protection Force, which will operate at the community level.

The 240 men come from Wardak province, just to the south of Kabul, which was badly hit by the Taleban insurgency last year.

After three weeks of training by US special forces, these men will soon be sent back to their villages, to be a first line of defence. The plan is to replicate this force across the country.

"This is an example of a bottom-up approach, where we can have communities come together and help provide security and a unity of voice," Gen David McKeirnon said.

But like much of Washington's new strategy, Afghans have heard many things like this before.

It is only when they see changes on the ground, and in their impoverished and war-scarred communities, that they will begin to believe that there is indeed a new strategy, and one that works.



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