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Afghans Unimpressed by Obama's Troops Surge

Sayed Salahuddin

Afghan poor men wait in a queue to receive food stuff donation provided by U.S. solders in Kabul, Afghanistan on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2009. Many Afghans were still sleeping when President Barack Obama announced he was sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to the war. (AP Photo/Musadeq Sadeq)

KABUL - 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".

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."


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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)
((; Kabul newsroom; Reuters Messaging: (For more Reuters coverage of
Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here

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