Later this month, President Barack Obama is expected to announce just how many troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan starting in July. Whether the U.S. should still be engaged in Afghanistan has been hotly contested for years, but the budget crunch and the killing of Osama bin Laden has only intensified the debate.
NPR's Pentagon Correspondent Tom Bowman has been talking to Marines in the Golf Company. He reports that on the ground, there's consensus that now is not the time to pull combat troops out of Afghanistan. He said some Marines he talked to are OK with the president pulling out support troops like the construction battalion, but not combat troops.
"Marines say they've made some gains against the Taliban," Tom told Melissa Block on tonight's edition of All Things Considered. They say "we finally have the right amount of troops... finally have everything we need. They finally feel like they're making progress. They just want more time, they say."
Perhaps it can't be put any clearer than when Tom spoke to Sgt. John Maulder. When Tom asked him if they could pull troops out of Marjah, he kind of chuckled and said no. "If anything," he said, "we need more troops:"
Another issue, said Tom, is that the handoff to the Afghan military is complicated, because there are few well-trained units.
"Overall," said Tom, "they need a lot more work." Tom said he had been on patrol with the Golf Company in north Marjah. The Afghan forces, he said, "were along for the ride, standing around while the Marines did most of the work."
Maulder didn't hold back. He said if you've ever seen Afghan forces during a firefight, all the do is "pray and pray." To leave them now, he said, would just mean the country would descend into a "civil uprising" and the U.S. would just have to turn back around to help them:
To listen to Melissa's full interview with Tom, tune into All Things Considered on your local NPR member station. We'll post the as-aired version of the interview a little later today.