Conflict & Justice

The situation in Kandahar

President Obama will officially unveil his new orders for the US military in Afghanistan tomorrow night at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York. You can be certain that President Obama’s speech will be closely watched at the military base in Kandahar. That’s Afghanistan’s second largest city and militants have been making gains in the area. Reporter Ben Gilbert is there.

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    MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman.  This is The World.  Barack Obama will unveil his blueprint for the war in Afghanistan tomorrow night.  The President is slated to speak at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York.  Mr. Obama’s address will include his response to a request from the top commander in Afghanistan for tens of thousands of reinforcements.  You can be certain that President Obama’s speech will be closely watched at the military base just outside Kandahar.  That’s Afghanistan’s second largest city, and militants have been making gains in the area.  Reporter Ben Gilbert is there.  And tomorrow, Ben, President Obama is expected to make this big speech, announcing the deployment of potentially 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.  Are the troops there anticipating this speech?  Are they talking about it?

    BEN GILBERT:  Well, I think there was a good example of how people are feeling about this speech.  I was at the gym last night; at the American gym is what it’s called here, because it’s an international base with NATO troops.  And they usually air football games on the TV in the gym.  In between one of the plays, a picture of Obama was projected on the screen and kind of informing troops about the speech, and immediately you saw just about everyone on the treadmills to lifting weights, about a hundred soldiers in front of me, their heads snapped up to the TV, because no one was quite sure if there was some kind of an announcement coming, or something like that.  And as soon as President Obama’s face was taken off and it returned to the football game, everyone kind of went back to their exercising.  But I think it’s being anticipated.  I think everyone is aware of it here.  Some people have mentioned that they’re going to stay up and watch it.  Some people have said they’re going to wake up and watch it, because it’s airing here at 5:30 AM on Wednesday morning.  But regardless of whether or not people are going to sleep through it or wake up and watch it, just about every single soldier and marine is aware of the implications of what Obama is going to talk about and how it affects their personal lives and also the mission here.

    WERMAN: And what would change on that base in Kandahar if 30,000 more troops are deployed to Afghanistan?

    GILBERT:  Well, Kandahar has been called the center of gravity of the south, and the south where I’m at right now, it’s probably the hottest.  You’ve seen the largest number of attacks, the most casualties.  This is where the majority of American troops and British troops, the Canadian troops I’m with have seen about 30 deaths each year since 2006, and they’ve only got 2,800 troops here, so you can imagine, that’s quite a large percentage of your troops being taken out every year.  So it’s a very hot area and it’s expected that this area will be the focus of a large number of those troops that President Obama is expected to be sending and for good reason.  This is where the Taliban was founded in 1994.  This is where they spread to the rest of Afghanistan and took it over, and so this area is seen as win or lose here, really.

    WERMAN:  And from the military base where you are, Ben, what signs are there that militants are making gains, that there is a hot war outside of that wire, as you say?

    GILBERT:  Well, actually, I’m sitting inside a bunker right now, talking to you, and this bunker is here for troops here, although we’re very far away from the edge of the camp.  It’s a huge base here, but I’m sitting inside of this because occasionally rockets come flying into this base from the outskirts of Kandahar and from outside the base.  So you feel it everywhere.  It’s a massive concrete bunker with seats in it that can seat probably about a hundred people.  And these are scattered around the base, especially close to where people would gather.  I’m on the Canadian headquarters base right now, and then near the American gym or near the cafeteria, you have these bunkers that people are supposed to run to.  So that’s probably how you feel it here.  I’ve only been for three days and haven’t experienced a rocket attack, but apparently in the last two weeks, there have been around seven rockets flying into the base, but that’s just on the base.  Outside there have been a lot of casualties in Helmand province, next door to Kandahar province in the south.  The Marines have had a very hard time here in this province.  The 82nd Airborne has experienced a lot of casualties, and also a Striker Brigade taskforce has lost a number of troops in the last few months.  So I mean, this area is very hot right now.

    WERMAN: Reporter Ben Gilbert at the military base just outside Kandahar, Afghanistan.  Thank you, Ben.

    GILBERT:  Thank you, Marco.

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