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After Massive Bombing, Looking At The U.S. Strategy In Afghanistan


We're going to turn now to NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman, who has reported in Afghanistan for years. He's in our studio this morning. Hi, Tom.


MARTIN: So you heard Saad Mohseni say there earlier that there is an assumption across the region that the U.S. is on its way out. I mean, that's been the story now for years and years. What are U.S. officials telling you about the likelihood of adding troops to Afghanistan?

BOWMAN: Well, there was a White House meeting yesterday on this very issue talking about a troop increase, and again, these troops are now looking at several thousand, would mostly be in a training and advising role. There's been no decision yet by the White House or even by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who's asking a lot more questions about this. But what we do know - that over the past year the Taliban has gained more ground. The commander there, General John Nicholson, has called it a stalemate. The Afghan forces have suffered a lot of casualties. Officials say it's unsustainable the number of casualties.

They're having trouble recruiting, and there's a serious problem, as we just heard, with corruption. A senior officer I interviewed last year over there in Helmand Province, he was praised by the Americans. He's since been relieved from his post and now is under arrest for corruption.


What was he doing?

BOWMAN: We think skimming some money from the accounts.

INSKEEP: Which is really common, isn't it? You have lots of U.S. aid that goes in and goes right back out to Dubai or someplace else.

BOWMAN: Absolutely. In some cases, they'll - they're supposed to buy a certain quality of rice, let's say. They'll buy the cheaper rice and then pocket the difference.

INSKEEP: Charge the higher price.

MARTIN: The big question, though, Tom, is what is the strategy? You say if more troops go in, they're going to advise and assist. That means they're still there to just support the Afghan troops. They still believe that Afghan national security forces can, in the end, secure this country.

BOWMAN: That is the strategy, that the Afghans do most of the fighting and the Americans will do the training. I think you're going to see a lot more U.S. airstrikes this year and maybe U.S. troops closer to the front lines accompanying Afghan troops in some areas.

INSKEEP: Very quickly, Tom Bowman, there was this bombing yesterday. The Taliban said we're not responsible. Is there a better sense of who is responsible?

BOWMAN: The belief is from the Afghan intelligence that the Haqqani network is responsible, the most dangerous of the insurgent groups, which has a safe haven next door in Pakistan.

INSKEEP: In Pakistan, as Saad Mohseni was just telling us.

BOWMAN: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: So they fear it came out of there. And what was their motive? Why were they blowing up a portion of Kabul?

BOWMAN: To have influence in what goes on in Afghanistan. And they're angry at the Indian influence in Afghanistan - their mortal enemy, which is supporting the Kabul government. You're going to see a lot more about this issue in the coming days and weeks.

MARTIN: Long-standing, intractable problems. NPR's Tom Bowman covers the Pentagon for NPR. Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.