The long-awaited decision by President Obama to escalate US troop numbers in Afghanistan aims to isolate the Taliban and create the space needed to train Afghan forces.
Providing homegrown security is seen as vital if success is to be achieved. That is a view shared by many on the streets of the Afghan capital. Kabul resident Nazir Ahmad said: “Increasing foreign troops in Afghanistan will not change anything. It will remain the same as usual. It would be better to strengthen the Afghan people, national army and police because every country is rebuilt by its own people.” It is hoped that enabling the Afghan army to stand on its own two feet will pave the way for the eventual withdraw of NATO forces in 2011. Currently, the Afghan army has around 100,000 men but Afghanistan’s defence ministry would like that to increase to over 150,000 in a year. That is not an easy task, considering the number of deserters – more than 10 per cent according to NATO. Afghanistan’s police force faces similar difficulties, with recruitment in a country ravaged by illiteracy and little government. With an officer’s salary just 113 euros per month, corruption also remains widespread. Drug addiction among troops and police is also reported to be a major problem. Many believe US and NATO forces will have to stay in Afghanistan beyond Obama’s planned 2011 withdrawal. “We will certainly need the US presence in Afghanistan to support the Afghan security forces probably for a longer time, probably for another decade,” said Haroon Mir, Head of the Afghanistan Centre for Policy and Research. The cultivation of Afghan opium, which makes up more than 90 per cent of all global heroin production, lies at the heart of the corruption problem and continues to feed the insurgency. Since 2005 the Taliban has raked in more than 100 million euros a year from the poppy fields – that is more than half the amount of foreign aid given to Afghanistan in 2007. The other main, but tough, priority for the US and its allies will be to gain the support of the Afghan people. Despite the surge, commanders are determined not to be seen as an occupying force so as to avoid the same fate suffered by the Russians during the 1980s.