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REACTION: THE AFGHANS

Many fear Taliban will wait out U.S. troop presence

December 02, 2009

It's commonplace to hear Afghans describe a rush of mixed feelings when a Western military convoy roars past. They're glad for the protection from insurgents, but they don't want foreign soldiers in their homeland forever.

So President Obama's pledge to send more troops now to fight the Taliban -- coupled with talk of an eventual pullout -- is a message that resonates with many here.

Still, there are misgivings. Some Afghans fear that the U.S. strategy will prompt the Taliban to simply wait out the Western presence. The militants, they warn, will melt away in the face of new U.S.-led offensives, biding their time in the countryside or in Pakistan until the foreigners are gone and they can seek to seize power again.

An American exit strategy "is not a good idea," said Mohammad Omar, governor of Kunduz, a northern province where insurgents have made significant inroads in recent months. "Afghan forces won't be in a position for a long, long time to safeguard our country."

But in a reflection of Afghanistan's powerful tradition of national pride and mistrust of outsiders, others said it was time for this country to begin standing on its own.

"We need to strengthen our own army," said Sangiwal, an advisor to the governor of violence-ridden Helmand province, who uses only one name. "Sending more troops is a good idea for now. But look how many, many times more expensive one American soldier is, compared to an Afghan one!"

Some worry that their remote town or region might find itself left out in the cold if the new emphasis is on securing large urban areas and curbing the insurgency in its main strongholds, in the south and east.

"It's not a good situation if only the big cities are safe while places like the west are insecure," said Abdul Qadir, a provincial council member in largely rural Farah, in the west.

Abdul Hamid, a 23-year-old student at Kabul University, said he could remember little other than civil war, followed by Taliban rule, then the battle to keep the insurgents at bay.

"I wonder if this war will ever end," he said.

-- Laura King laura.king@latimes.com

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