Troops in Afghanistan take in Obama's speech
December 2, 2009
Even at 5:30 a.m., a couple dozen bleary-eyed troops filed into a recreation center at Kandahar Airfield, NATO's main hub in Afghanistan's violence-plagued south, to watch President Barack Obama's West Point speech.
Troops in the south have been cautiously optimistic about the increase in troops since word of the proposed build-up leaked last week.
Sgt. Daniel Foster, 25, of Caldwell, Idaho, said the extra support will be welcome in the south, but that it's only part of the solution.
"I don't know whether or not it will work — the success hinges on the Afghans," said Foster, a soldier with the hard-hit 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division. "We're not here for ourselves, we're trying to help these people get back on solid ground. It feels like they're always fighting us. They've got to be willing to change to help themselves."
The president is sending 30,000 additional troops after months of deliberation on Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s assessment, with a renewed push to stand up Afghan forces, but also a clear expectation that the United States will begin to pull substantial numbers of troops out starting in 2011.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he expects “other allies and partners will also make a substantial increase in their contributions."
Soldiers serving with 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment at a U.S. forward operating base in Zhari district, a few miles west of Kandahar city, expressed support for the plan.
"It'll make it get over quicker," said Sgt. Dylan Seymour, 27, of Athens, Ohio.
Cpl. William Strickland, 27, of Columbus, Ohio, said he was in the morale, welfare and recreation center in the early morning when another soldier read the development aloud on Yahoo News.
"We're so spread out now that it's hard to keep control over the areas we have," Strickland said. "I think it's right to send more guys over here, so that we can regain positive control and then turn it over to the Afghans, like we did with the Iraqis in Iraq. I'm all for whatever we need to do to end this."
Spc. Morgan Riley, 26, of Temple, Texas, said that without additional troops it would be difficult to make progress in the south.
"If we continue to do (the same thing) over here, we're going to be here for a long time," he said.
At Joint Combat Outpost Baraki Barak in Logar province, 1st Lt. Jason Hall, a military policeman who arrived in country two weeks ago to help train the fledgling Afghan National Police, welcomed Obama's troop surge and the focus on training indigenous forces.
"I think it's great," the Knoxville, Tenn. native said. "The more personnel we have means it’s going to be easier to train them. Maybe we can gain the trust of the people finally."
A big part of moving the ANP forward will involve enabling them to take the initiative and be "comfortable in their own shoes" while gaining the faith of the people, said Hall, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade's Special Troops Battalion.
Training will focus on getting the ANP to take the lead on operations, Hall said, and “mission accomplished” will mean getting the force to a level of proficiency that is to Afghan and not American standards.
"We realize it's going to be a very long time before they get to a level of proficiency like what we have back home, but they may not need that," he said.
Hall said his Military Police platoon will emphasize helping the ANP implement their own ideas.
"Our main focus is to take their ideas and try to make them better," he said. "We're 70-30 their input versus ours. If they're not cool with it, we don't force them."
The Baraki Barak district of Logar province where Hall and his men will work has seen improved security in recent months, and Hall said that will help with the training.
"We really do think we'll be able to make a difference," he said. "We've got something to work with."
Stars and Stripes’ Drew Brown contributed to this report.