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US and Afghan soldiers react to Obama's visit

Kabul talk means little in Kandahar, troops and locals agree.

But there are promising signs. One local offered to visit the base and divulge information and there has been a recent upswing in tips regarding improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. As part of Gen. McChrystal’s new counterinsurgency strategy, soldiers are exposing themselves more by carrying out dismounted patrols from their vehicles to engage the locals and pass out pens, notebooks and candy to the children. The American troops here are trailed by dozens of children but the Afghan adults spare them little more than the occasional smile.

Most of the Afghan army soldiers in Kochnay Manar are not Pashto, the prevailing ethnicity in southern Afghanistan and the main support base for the Taliban. Posted to the area in up to six-year deployments, their attitude toward the region they find themselves in clearly rankles.

“We tried to apply to this place the kind of laws we encountered while we lived in Iran but these people are endlessly benighted,” said Rooz Mohammad, an Afghan soldier who lived as a refugee in Iran before returning after the fall of the Taliban. “They need another 30 years to get to Iran’s level,” he said of the Pashto locals.

Even on a local level, there are clear examples of the corruption tearing this country apart on a mass scale and lethally injuring the people’s ability to have faith in the government and move away from support of the Taliban. For example, village leaders abuse seed handouts by distributing only a small percentage to their villagers and selling the rest on the black market in Kandahar.

“Obama’s come here to speak empty talk and go away again but stomachs do not fill with empty talk,” said Rooz Mohammad. The next few months will prove whether the NATO coalition can win this battle.

“He needs to put real pressure to end the corruption,” agreed Nur Yallae Rasooli. “What we need is infrastructure. What have the Americans done aside from paving a few roads that fall apart after a few years and building some wooden houses?”