Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Obama's Plan for Afghanistan Draws Worries
Ahead of Visit
By ZaraBeen

Ahead of Senator Barack Obama's expected visit to Afghanistan, the US presidential hopeful's plans to increase US troops in the country was being met with both hope and skepticism from Afghans.

"Increasing troops doesn't help Afghanistan at all," warned Kabeer Ranjbar, a member of the lower house of the Afghan National Assembly. "Afghanistan's governmental institutions need to be reformed. The problem is the Afghanistan government itself."

"Afghanistan government needs to gain people's support," he said. "If the government doesn't have people's support, increasing of forces doesn't help Afghanistan."

Obama's campaign has said its candidate, who is to face Republican Senator John McCain in November's election, would travel to Afghanistan and Iraq this summer. Because of security concerns, it has not given the dates for such a trip, but it was widely expected that Obama would pay those visits during his trip next week to Europe and the Middle East as the senator, who is serving his first term, faces criticism from McCain about a lack of foreign policy experience.

To burnish his image on international affairs, Obama gave a speech Tuesday in Washington in which he said the US must broaden its foreign policy focus beyond Iraq as he pledged to end the war there and focus on fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan and Al Qaeda militants hiding in the mountains in Pakistan.

"As president, I would pursue a new strategy and begin by providing at least two additional combat brigades to support our effort in Afghanistan," Obama said in a foreign policy push this week. "We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering, and more non-military assistance to accomplish the mission there."

Wahid Mujda, an Afghan political analyst, warned, however, that Obama's planned increase in US troops by about 10,000 would make the situation worse.

"Increasing troops shows that the US emphasis is on war," Mujda said. "It means the US wants to solve Afghanistan's problems through military forces, which is not a sound strategy."

"More troops shows that war will continue," he added. "It means more people will be killed. It means both parties who are involved in the war would have more casualties."

People on the streets of Kabul also worried about a continuing conflict although they admitted they knew little about Obama or his strategy for their country.

"I don't know who Obama is," admitted shopkeeper Saleh Mohammed, 27. "I just want the person who becomes president of the US to feel sympathy for Afghanistan and bring peace for us."

Other Kabul residents expressed hope that the next US president would address threats coming from neighbouring Pakistan, whose mountains militants have been using as a refuge and a launch pad for attacks in Afghanistan that have killed Afghan soldiers, international forces and Afghan civilians.

"I ask him to stop Pakistan from killing innocent women, children and people of Afghanistan," taxi driver Mohammed Aslam, 48, said.

"I think he [Obama] knows that Pakistan is the main problem in the region," said Najeenullah, 23, a fruit cart vendor.

Obama's expected visit to Afghanistan was coming at a time of increasing tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, skyrocketing civilian casualties from airstrikes by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and rising attacks from insurgents.

The Taliban has launched a major offensive in recent weeks, including a rash of suicide bombings that have left scores of people dead. More than three dozen people died in the July 7 bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul.

At least 71 Afghan civilians have died in three airstrikes by international forces this month in Afghanistan, bringing the civilian toll in the overall conflict this year to around 700, according to a recent UN survey.

US casualties were also rising. The Taliban attacked a remote US military outpost near the border with Pakistan Sunday, killing nine American soldiers in the deadliest attack on US forces in Afghanistan in three years.

The US casualty rate in Afghanistan has began to equal or even exceed the rate in Iraq as President George W. Bush's troop surge has largely succeeding in sharply bringing down violence in the country.

"We won't have sufficient resources to finish the job in Afghanistan until we reduce our commitment to Iraq," Obama wrote this week in an article published by The New York Times.