Conflict & Justice

Kandahar update

President Obama is to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and deploy them within six months, US officials have said. Mr Obama will make the much-anticipated announcement as part of a speech to the nation at West Point tonight. Commanders on the ground want the reinforcements concentrated in Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan, including Kandahar and Helmand, the group’s opium-producing heartland. Ben Gilbert is reporting from an American base in Kandahar Province.

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MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World.  Tonight’s the night President Obama will lay out his blueprint for the war in Afghanistan.  The president will reveal his strategy in his speech at the U.S. military academy at WestPoint in New York.  An administration official said today that Mr. Obama will announce plans to send about thirty thousand more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.  Many of them will be deployed in Kandahar.  Reporter Ben Gilbert is embedded with taskforce Kandahar, that’s a Canadian unit with U.S. forces under its command.  He spoke with some of the 4,000 U.S. troops already at Kandahar Air Base and sent us this report.

BEN GILBERT:  Kandahar Air Base is a sprawling, dusty center of the war efforts in Southern Afghanistan.  Fighter jets, helicopters and supply aircraft take off and land day and night.  Thousands of U.S. and NATO troops live and work here.  It’s also a place where troops based at four operating bases come for a little rest, relaxation and reflection.

At the French bakery here, one of the many shops and cafes on the Kandahar airbase’s boardwalk, 27 year old specialist Kyle Mitchell drinks coffee and smokes cigarettes after a long day.  He’s an Army combat engineer with an explosives and ordinance disposal unit.  That means he finds and clears roadside bombs.  He says he’s not planning to watch President Obama’s speech because it airs at 5:30 in the morning here but he does support the President’s decision to send more troops.

KYLE MITCHELL:  Oh, it’s a great thing.  It’s way, way, way undermanned here.  I tell my family all the time, like, you know, they ask my opinion on it and no, there’s not close to enough troops here.  You know to be on the roads all the time with what they’re doing, with 80’s and what not.

GILBERT:  Not everyone here thinks increased American commitment is a good idea.  A junior officer with the 82nd Airborne, who didn’t want to be named because he can’t speak for the Army, says the U.S. should be focusing on problems closer to home.

SPEAKER:  My opinion would be we need to turn our efforts towards our own country and leave this to Afghan.  This is an Afghan problem.  We’re not going to be able to solve the Afghan.  We should turn inwards, our country, the United States, has problems.  It’s my personal opinion.  I probably shouldn’t say that to you but it is.  I don’t think there’s any need to shed more American blood for this country.

GILBERT: His colleague, an enlisted soldier who also asked to remain anonymous, has mixed feelings.  He says more troops will help support the mission here but there presence won’t be a magic potion to bring the end to a quick close.

SPEAKER: It’s a long-term commitment to stay here and I don’t have any issues with that, so I guess that’s my opinion.  As far as what the American public opinion is, I mean that’s obviously a different story.  I think the problem could be fixed but like I said, it will be a long-term commitment.

GILBERT: That’s what concerns another enlisted man, a 27 year old sergeant who runs re-supply missions to outside bases.  This is his fourth deployment.  The other three were in Iraq.  One of the men in his 100 person unit was killed last month in an IED attack.  So he’s not sure increasing troop levels is such a good idea.  37 year old lieutenant Glen Robert Noranca couldn’t disagree more.  He’s with the striker brigade and leads a platoon of scouts from a base in the dangerous countrywide outside Kandahar.  He says more troops would help fulfill his mission of protecting the Afghan people.

GLEN ROBERT NORANCA: It’s good and it’s bad.  It’s good to have more people and more help, then more chance for more soldiers to die.

GILBERT: From your experience here, do you think that they’re needed?

NORANCA: I think it’s a lost cause.  It’s a lose-lose situation.  No matter what we do, I don’t think it’s going to change much.  You can’t help nobody who don’t want to be helped.

GILBERT: That fits with the apparent strategy behind the expected troop surge here.  Commanders hope to cut off Kandahar from the Taliban and secure the city and surrounding area, much like the strategy in Baghdad in 2007.  Although counter-insurgency doctrine says far more troops are needed than the expected 30,000, most here say no matter their personal feelings, the troop escalation can only help improve security and hold more ground.  For The World, I’m Ben Gilbert on Kandahar Air Base, Afghanistan.

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