Tuesday, May 5, 2009
U.S. and Afghan officials agree that most of the 21,000 U.S. troops President Obama plans to send to Afghanistan in the coming months should be deployed in Kandahar and its surrounding areas to fight the Taliban resurgence.
Kandahar is among the largest and most dangerous provinces in Afghanistan, a place where wars have been waged for centuries. It is the birthplace of the Taliban and one of the country's most important political regions, serving as a focal point for the country's ethnic Pashtun majority.
But few people in Kandahar are pleased about the prospects of more American forces here. They fear that U.S. troops will attract more violence.
"It cannot help and I think the problem will be increased," says Dr. Abdullah, a physician at Kandahar's main hospital. Like many Afghans, he goes by just one name.
Almost daily, he sees the consequences of the growing war with the Taliban at his hospital.
Abdullah examines a young patient injured by shrapnel from a bomb that exploded just outside the hospital gate.
The 8-year-old boy, Nassir Ahmad, says he was walking to the pharmacy down the street from his religious school to pick up pills for one of his teachers when a police truck came into view.
Moments later, as the truck passed by, a militant set off a bomb planted on a bicycle near the hospital fence. A woman and a man were killed by the blast, and five others — including Nassir — were wounded.
Who Will Stop The Attacks?
It was a small bombing by Kandahar standards. One of hundreds of attacks that Abdullah wishes his government would do more to stop.
The arrival of more troops will only increase the violence, he fears. "Because the people disagree, especially the people who are the opposite of the government, and the attacks will be increased," he says.
A local tribal elder, Nani Kako, says more Westerners mean more targets for militants, which inevitably will lead to more civilian casualties.
He says if Obama is interested in stability, he should eliminate corruption in the Afghan government. That is the only way to restore Afghans' faith in their government, he says.
U.S. Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, deputy commander of NATO forces in southern Afghanistan, is aware of the Afghan worries.
"We assure people — or try to reassure them — that this additional security will lead to a better way of life. But yes, there will be a period of increased fighting until we get to that point," he says.
Nicholson says U.S. troops will concentrate on major population centers with the goal of making them secure enough to allow national and provincial elections to take place in August.
Negotiate With The Taliban?
Kandahar women's rights activist Shahida Hussein says the Americans should push for peace talks.
"In 2001, U.S. forces ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan in two months. Today, they can't even secure one dangerous district," she says. "What the U.S. administration and its international partners should do is sit down with the insurgents, find out why they are fighting and reach some kind of agreement."
Tooryalai Wesa, the governor of Kandahar, says he understands his constituents' concerns and their growing calls for negotiating with the enemy. But, he adds, that cannot happen without more of a Western presence.
"For negotiations, you need a secure environment. How can you negotiate in an insecure situation? So those forces will help establish security, then that will help facilitate and expedite the negotiation process," he says.
Welcoming U.S. Troops
Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of Kandahar's provincial council and brother of the Afghan president, is another Kandahari who welcomes the prospect of new U.S. troops.
But he says the Americans should also step up their creation of so-called public protection forces, similar to the Sunni Arab tribal militias in Iraq that formed an alliance with the United States against al-Qaida.
Karzai says guns have proliferated in Afghanistan, especially in Kandahar, like mobile phones. "Everyone owns one or two," he says. "So we need these people to be mobilized to be part of the military or part of the police together to join the war against the Taliban and al-Qaida."
Nicholson agrees that security should ultimately be in the hands of Afghans. He says U.S. troops will initially help secure population centers in Kandahar and neighboring provinces. But it will be up to Afghan forces to provide long-term security, he says.