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Afghans sceptical about fresh troops

By Martin Patience
BBC News, Kabul

US soldiers in Logar province, Afghanistan (24 Nov 2009)
There are 68,000 US soldiers based in Afghanistan

You do not have to go far out of Kabul to run into trouble pretty quickly.

Four years ago, Afghans - and foreigners - could drive the 300 miles or so from the capital to the southern city of Kandahar in relative safety.

But now the Taliban and other insurgents operate just beyond the outskirts of Kabul.

And it is for that reason that US military commanders want more troops. They say the extra soldiers will help stabilise the security situation and train the Afghan army.

They hope that by protecting Afghanistan's main cities and towns, the Afghan government, supported by the West, can win over the population.

'Negotiate with insurgents'

But Afghans on the fringes of Kabul are sceptical about those plans.

I met Hayit Allah pushing a wheelbarrow close to his mud-wall compound. He was an elderly man with a wiry spryness, and still worked in the dusty fields with his four sons.

He told me that the security situation was good close to his village. But he said that just five minutes' drive away, the villages were all Taliban-controlled.

But he was not worried about it, he said, and believed more foreign troops would be a bad idea.

His neighbour Haji Rabat, also a farmer, endorsed this view. He thought that deploying more US forces in Afghanistan would be a big mistake.

"Every time the Americans send more troops they create more problems with us," he said. "The only way to resolve this conflict is to negotiate with the insurgents."

Back in Kabul, I met a group of young men at a local fast-food restaurant.

Taliban members in north-western Pakistan
The Taliban have proved to be formidable adversaries

They were all in their mid-twenties with good jobs. All of them freely admitted they had opportunities now that would not have existed under the Taliban.

But they too had their doubts about any increase in foreign forces.

"It is not good to have more American troops in Afghanistan," said Idris, who works for a local non-governmental organisation involved in reconstruction projects.

"They don't know much about our culture and they can't communicate with the local people."

But Idris would support more troops if they focused entirely on the training of the Afghan army.

His friend Jawed, however, believes that foreign forces are the source of Afghanistan's insecurity.

"In the last eight years they have gained nothing," says Jawed, who also works for a non-governmental organisation.

"Day by day the security situation is getting worse. The Taliban are fighting the international forces and if they increase troop numbers then it will only get worse."

Jawed advocated a complete withdrawal of foreign troops but would like continued international support for the Afghan government.

Recipe for disaster

But many Afghans think that simply pulling out would be a recipe for disaster and that the country would descend into civil war.

Parts of Afghanistan have made real progress. In Kabul there are several thriving markets. And that would not be possible without the military, which provides the security, so normal life can go on.

But many Afghans still appear lukewarm about the prospect of more foreign soldiers arriving in their country.

One vegetable seller told me that he didn't want foreign forces in the city because they attracted suicide bomb attacks.

Foreign troops in Helmand
Many Afghans believe foreign forces are the source of insecurity

While this sentiment may appear ungrateful, it should be remembered that Afghan soldiers are fighting and dying here - they are bearing the brunt of the conflict.

Over 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces were killed last year. That is a higher death toll than that of all foreign troops combined.

Mohammed Din knows the cost. I met him on a hillside close to his home. His brother Mohammed Rabat, an officer in the Afghan army, was killed in a suicide bomb attack last year.

We were supposed to meet in his home, but his parents are still so grief-stricken that they cannot bear to have their son's name mentioned in their presence.

Mr Din believed that foreign troops should stay here.

"We want them until that time we have proper peace and security in our country," he said.

"For the moment we need them to fight together."

The Afghan army is making progress but will not be able to operate on its own for several more years.

And while most Afghans do not like having foreign troops in their country (and increasing numbers are fighting them), many know that they will have to depend upon them for some time yet.



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