ABC Radio Australia, March 29, 2007

AFGHANISTAN: Resentment grows against foreign troops

"... over a period of time neither security has been really delivered, nor reconstruction to the extent that was really desirable."

Presenter/Interviewer: Megan Flamer

In Afghanistan civilians are reportedly growing increasingly resentful of foreign troops in their country, as the number of civilian casualties continues to grow. The latest suicide bombing in the capital, Kabul has killed four civilians and wounded 12 others.

a man shouts anti-American slogans after the attack
An Afghan man cries as he shouts anti-American slogans after American convoy killed 16 people in Barayekab in Nangarhar province. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Speakers: Major John Thomas, Spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul; Professor Amin Saikal, head of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the Australian National University

SAIKAL: A majority of the Afghan people initially welcomed the foreign troops because they saw that as the best way to free themselves from the medievelist rule of the Taliban. But I think over a period of time neither security has been really delivered, nor reconstruction to the extent that was really desirable. And as a result of that, a great majority of the Afghan people have not really profited from the presence of the foreign troops to the extent that they had expected. And as a consequence I think quite a number of Afghans have now turned not only against the Karzai government, but also its international backers.

FLAMER: Professor Amin Saikal, head of the Centre for Middle East Studies at the Australian National University, summing up his thoughts on the turning of public opinion against foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Like many experts watching the region, Professor Saikal has noticed the growing disillusionment among civilians, not least of all because of a change in their financial situation.

SAIKAL: Some of these military operations have gone wrong and have inflicted very heavy damage on Afghan civilians. And the more Afghan civilians have been killed, the more Afghans have turned against the foreign troops and their operations. And the security measures have really faulted, but also the reconstruction has taken place at a very, very slow pace and has not really created the kind of conditions which really could ensure many Afghans about their future.

FLAMER: But Spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, Major John Thomas says the Afghan government isn't objecting to the international military presence and the security and stability it provides, just the toll that military operations are having on the population.

THOMAS: We are doing everything that we can possible to try to limit the number of, if not completely eliminate the number of civilian casualties. Obviously in wartime operations that's not always possible.

FLAMER: Major Thomas says it's important to note that when civilian deaths occur, they are accidental and are duly investigated.

US Marines fleeing a militant ambush opened fire on civilian cars and pedestrians on a busy highway in eastern Afghanistan, wounded Afghans said. Up to 16 people were killed and 34 wounded in the violence. Najib said, adding that his 2-year-old brother was grazed by a bullet on his cheek. "I saw them turning and firing in this direction, then turning and firing in that direction. I even saw a farmer shot by the Americans."
AP, March 4, 2007

And he says they are not the only reason for growing discontent.

THOMAS: There's certainly pockets of discontent, sometimes encouraged by those incidents, but other times encouraged by Taliban extremists who hold sway over impressionable Afghans. We're confident that the people when they learn what ISAF is doing and will certainly embrace what ISAF doing. That's exactly what operations in southern Afghanistan at this time are all about.

FLAMER: But Amin Saikal says Afghanistan also suffers from a weak government, which is failing to address the needs of its people.

SAIKAL: The more the government fails to create jobs, generate incomes for people, the more many of them really turn to the Taliban, which could offer them alternative and more attractive salaries and also a sort of salvation.

FLAMER: And Major John Thomas says counting numbers of Taliban or indeed civilian deaths is never a priority, because ultimately, that's not what the foreign troops are there to focus on.

THOMAS: The efforts of ISAF goes far beyond the military operations and is much more focussed on a comprehensive approach to offer what the Taliban extremists do not offer, which is peace and stability and a future where people can feel that they can get education and they can learn to take control of their own lives.

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