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U.S. Says Key to Success in Afghanistan Is Economy, Not Military

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Jones let the question hang in the air-conditioned, fluorescent-lighted room. Nicholson and the colonels said nothing.

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Well, Jones went on, after all those additional troops, 17,000 plus 4,000 more, if there were new requests for force now, the president would quite likely have "a Whiskey Tango Foxtrot moment." Everyone in the room caught the phonetic reference to WTF -- which in the military and elsewhere means "What the [expletive]?"

Nicholson and his colonels -- all or nearly all veterans of Iraq -- seemed to blanch at the unambiguous message that this might be all the troops they were going to get.

Jones, speaking with great emphasis to this group of Iraq veterans, said Afghanistan is not Iraq. "We are not going to build that empire again," he said flatly.

A Question Not Settled

Obama sent Jones last week to Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to make an assessment and explain the president's thinking.

As a presidential candidate and as president, Obama stressed that the Afghan war was neglected in the Bush administration. In announcing the first additional 17,000 troops on Feb. 17, Obama said that "the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan" and that al-Qaeda "threatens America from its safe haven" in neighboring Pakistan.

"We don't need more U.S. forces," Nicholson finally told Jones. "We need more Afghan forces." It is a complaint Jones heard repeatedly. Jones and other officials said Afghanistan, and particularly its president, Hamid Karzai, have not mobilized sufficiently for their own war. Karzai has said Afghanistan is making a major effort in the war and is increasing its own forces as fast as possible.

In an interview, Nicholson said that in the six months he has been building Camp Leatherneck and brought 9,000 Marines to the base, not a single additional member of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA) has been assigned to assist him. He said he needed "Afghanistan security forces -- all flavors," including soldiers, police, border patrol and other specialists.

The evening before the Jones meeting, a Marine was killed during a patrol in Now Zad, a town in Helmand where people had fled the fighting.

"If we had several ANA in Now Zad, we might not have lost that Marine," said one civilian official, noting that the Afghan army could supply the "eyes and ears" that were badly needed to sound warnings and scout on patrols. One senior U.S. diplomat in Afghanistan estimated that the military needs one member of the Afghan security forces for every 10 U.S. troops to operate safely and stabilize the area. That would mean Nicholson should have approximately 900 Afghans, and he effectively has none.

At the briefing for Jones, Nicholson pointed to the mission statement, which said that "killing the enemy is secondary." His campaign plan states, "Protect the populace by, with and through the ANSF," the Afghanistan National Security Forces, which makes the absence of the additional Afghans particularly galling to Nicholson.

Though the United States supplies most of the funding for the Afghan army, the force is controlled by the Defense Ministry. Jones said he would press Karzai and others to deploy more of the Afghan soldiers to work here in Helmand.


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