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Obama Aims To Combat Insurgency In Afghanistan


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning. A few moments ago, President Obama laid out a new US strategy for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

INSKEEP: We have a clear and focused goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan and to prevent their return to either country in the future. That's a goal that must be achieved.

INSKEEP: Which is rather like the goal that the president previous to him had, but there's a difference in the way that it will be pursued. To achieve his goal, the president announced he would send more troops and called for spending more money in the region. NPR's defense correspondent Mary Louise Kelly is in our studios live. Mary Louise, good morning.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Okay, what are the key points here?

LOUISE KELLY: Well, as we just heard, more people, more money. They want to send in more civilian experts. They want to send more money to the region. They're talking for Pakistan, for example, $1.5 billion a year, just headed to Pakistan. So there's clearly a recognition, as the president said this morning, you can't win with bullets or bombs alone. That said, more troops are going, too. He'd already announced 17,000 extra US troops. This morning, he announced an additional 4,000 trainers. That's going to put the total US troop strength in Afghanistan up around 60,000. And they said they'll keep reevaluating. If they need more, we may hear future announcements that more are added.

INSKEEP: The president also made a statement at one point about each American unit being teamed up with an Afghan unit. What are they trying to do with these extra troops in Afghanistan?

LOUISE KELLY: Well, clearly the ultimate exit goal for the US in Afghanistan is to get Afghan security forces to a point where they can assume responsibility for security in the country. So they are sending in more trainers. They are looking at expanding the size of the Afghan army, increasing the police force. We didn't get an ultimate number of where they're headed with that today or exactly how it's going to be funded down the road, but that's the goal.

INSKEEP: And then you talked about civilians and money, a lot of that going across the border to Pakistan, where there's some shooting, but not technically a war going on. Clearly, they're as least as concerned about that country.

LOUISE KELLY: Absolutely. And the big - one of the big shifts that I think the Obama administration is trying to make is to emphasize that you can't fix one without the other. You have a problem, it's a regional problem. You have two countries, different governments. We're going to work with them in different ways. But you cannot fix one without the other. If you want to ultimately win the war in Afghanistan, you have to solve this problem of safe havens inside bordering Pakistan.

INSKEEP: We're talking live with NPR's Mary Louise Kelly about President Obama's announcement of a new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And I wonder, Mary Louise, if this is a situation where many of the key elements of this strategy are outside the president's control. He can't give an order. He has to ask for different kinds of cooperation from NATO allies, from the Afghan government, the Pakistani government.

LOUISE KELLY: Absolutely. I think that's one reason we heard this morning about benchmarks. They want to set goals that are measurable and tie the money to that. So if Afghanistan, if Pakistan meet the goals, they get the money. We haven't gotten a lot of details on those benchmarks, but that's one way they're trying to influence behavior there. And then you look at NATO allies, who are clearly critical, here. There have been extensive consultations. But at the end of the day, the US is pouring in more troops. The US is pouring in more money. At the end of this, the number of US troops on the ground in Afghanistan will be double all the other NATO countries combined. So I think the US is going to take more of a lead.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about that formula and those benchmarks. You can say to the Pakistani government we're sending you an extra $1.5 billion per year, and if you don't do what we like, we're going to take the money away. But hasn't it been proven in the last several years that when it gets right down to it, you don't want to remove support for the government of Pakistan because you're afraid of whatever other government there might be in that country?

LOUISE KELLY: That's obviously a hugely tricky element in all of this. You have a fragile government there, and the US is weighing the calculation. Every move they make to try to push that government a little bit farther risks destabilizing a partner there, and they don't know what might come after the current government. So you have to weigh that in every decision you make.

INSKEEP: Always good to talk with you, Mary Louise.

LOUISE KELLY: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: NPR defense correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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