Afghans Cool to Prospect of More U.S. Troops

In the Helmand River Valley, where more American troops have shed their blood this year than anywhere else, the police chief has a simple message to the Obama administration as it debates whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Four thousand Marines arrived in Helmand in July carrying a new strategy: set up camp on the ground they capture. Today, 32 of their men dead, the Marines have brought a shaky peace to the valley and spend as much time protecting the population as hunting the Taliban.

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Asadullah Sherzad, the province's police chief, praises the additional troops and thanks the United States for sending them. But that does not mean he thinks more Americans should come.

"As many foreign forces can come here as they want," he told ABC News. "But without Afghan forces, they won't be effective."

In a fractious country, that was the most widely held opinion expressed in two dozen interviews conducted by ABC News in Kabul and across the country's most volatile provinces.

Today President Obama hosts the first of five national security council meetings to debate whether to reinforce the war with as many as 40,000 additional troops, and ABC News asked officials and residents what they thought: would more U.S. troops bring peace?

There was no unanimity, although the majority of residents interviewed in southern and eastern Afghanistan said they were against sending additional troops, fearing that more foreign forces would create more violence.

But what they all seemed to agree with was that Afghan security forces should take the lead.

"Instead of more troops, it would be better to add more Afghan police and soldiers to do the job," says Gen. Saifullah Hakim, the head of the southern section of the Afghan Border Police, from his base in Kandahar.

He is responsible for 7,500 miles of Afghanistan's borders with Pakistan and Iran and says he needs 12,000 men. He has only 4,000. "We don't have enough weapons, especially heavy weapons," he says. "Given the situation in Kandahar they should supply us with more heavy weapons and more men."

That is a sentiment the U.S. strongly agrees with. Already, the one aspect of the administration's Afghan policy that receives wide backing in Washington is the desire to train more Afghan forces. U.S. commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal wants to accelerate training of the Afghan Army, increasing it from approximately 100,000 troops to 134,000 within two years, and eventually increasing it to 240,000. And he wants to eventually expand the Afghan police to 160,000.

McChrystal: Afghan Army Needs Foreign Help

But having an autonomous Afghan army and police force that can defend the country without foreign help is a long way off -- at least three years, according to McChrystal and his aides.

And that is where the respondents' opinions diverged: until Afghan forces are ready, would more U.S. troops help or hurt?

Those Afghans who want more U.S. troops echo McChrystal's recent strategy review, arguing that only a significant number of additional foreign troops can adequately protect the population, and only more foreign troops can clear areas held by the Taliban and hold them so that Afghans feel safe.

They perceive the ongoing debate in Washington as a sign that the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan is wavering.

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