Afghans unimpressed by Obama's troops surge

Wed Dec 2, 2009 1:54am EST

(For more coverage of Afghanistan, click on [nAFPAK])

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Thirty thousand more U.S. troops for Afghanistan? Esmatullah only shrugged.

"Even if they bring the whole of America, they won't be able to stabilise Afghanistan," said the young construction worker out on a Kabul street corner on Wednesday morning. "Only Afghans understand our traditions, geography and way of life."

U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement of a massive new escalation of the eight-year-old war seemed to have impressed nobody in the Afghan capital, where few watched the speech on TV before dawn and fewer seemed to think new troops would help.

Obama said his goal was to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al Qaeda in Afghanistan and "reverse the Taliban's momentum". [ID:nN02527192]

The extra U.S. forces, and at least 5,000 expected from other NATO allies, would join 110,000 Western troops already in the country in an effort to reverse gains made by the Islamist militants, at their strongest since being ousted in 2001.

Shopkeeper Ahmad Fawad, 25, said it would not help.

"The troops will be stationed in populated areas where the Taliban will somehow infiltrate and then may attack the troops," he said. "Instead of pouring in more soldiers, they need to focus on equipping and raising Afghan forces, which is cheap and easy."

For many, the prospect of more troops meant one thing: more civilian deaths.

"More troops will mean more targets for the Taliban and the troops are bound to fight, and fighting certainly will cause civilian casualties," Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, a former Afghan prime minister, told Reuters.

"The civilian casualties will be further a blow to the U.S. image and cause more indignation among Afghans."

"NOTHING REALLY NEW"

By late morning, the Afghan government had yet to issue an official response to Obama's statement. President Hamid Karzai has in the past said he favours additional Western troops, although he wants Afghan forces to take over security for the country within five years.

Although Obama pointedly addressed Afghans, telling them the United States was not interested in occupying their country, parliamentarian Shukriya Barakzai said she was disappointed because the speech contained little talk of civilian aid.

"It was a very wonderful speech for America ... but when it comes to strategy in Afghanistan there was nothing really new which was disappointing," she told Reuters from her home.

"It seems to me that President Obama is very far away from the reality and truth in Afghanistan. His strategy was to pay lip-service, and did not focus on civilians, nation-building, democracy and human rights."

Other Afghans, hardened by decades of war and wary of foreign forces whom have for years fought proxy battles in Afghanistan, were sceptical of the United States' intentions.

Kabul money changer Ehsanullah wondered why U.S. forces had managed to find former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but had yet to locate Al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who both fled U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2001.

"This is part of America's further occupation of Afghanistan," he said. "America is using the issue of insecurity here in order to send more troops." (Additional reporting by Abdul Saboor and Yara Bayoumy; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Peter Graff and Alex Richardson) ((yara.bayoumy@reuters.com; Kabul newsroom; Reuters Messaging: yara.bayoumy.reuters.com@reuters.net)) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here) ((If you have a query or comment about this story, send an email to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com))

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