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A U.S. Policy Shift In Afghanistan — And What It Means For The Future


This week, President Obama announced a significant shift in the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan. Instead of substantially reducing the almost 10,000 American troops there this year, forces will remain at the current levels through most of 2016. And the new plan calls for more than 5,000 to stay through the end of Obama's term in January 2017. Joining us to talk about this policy and what it says about long-term strategy in Afghanistan is Abderrahim Foukara. He's the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera Arabic. Abderrahim, thanks so much for joining us.


MARTIN: First of all, what are you hearing from the region with your vast network of reporters there?

FOUKARA: Well, we obviously are hearing a lot of disillusionment and disenchantment with Obama's fundamental policy. You know, there's a sense that he's already backpedaled on that policy in various parts of the Middle East, including Iraq. And now he's doing the same thing in Afghanistan. The allegation - or the accusation to the Obama administration that he withdrew too early from Iraq and led to the current chaos there, and now the explanation at least provided there in the region is that he's worried that if he pulls out of Afghanistan, according to his original plan, Afghanistan may go in a similar direction to Iraq.

MARTIN: Well, to that end though, a poll conducted at the end of last year by the Afghan Center for Socioeconomic and Opinion Research said that almost half of Afghans wanted to see a greater commitment by U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Does that track with, you know, you're understanding of it?

FOUKARA: Well, obviously, there has been a series of developments in recent weeks in Afghanistan that shook the confidence of many people in what the Afghan government and the Afghan forces can do to actually handle the situation by themselves should the U.S. and NATO completely withdraw from that country. A lot of people are seeing Obama's decision to now keep the forces he wants to keep in that light. If he withdraws everything according to plan, then there are serious questions about the ability of the Afghan forces to deliver the peace that many Afghans have always been clamoring for, including their wish for the U.S. to stay committed to Afghanistan.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, I did want to ask about the ongoing violence in Israel and in the occupied territories. Do you have any thoughts about this? I'm interested in how this is being reported in the region.

FOUKARA: Well, you know, both Israelis and Palestinians - both Israelis and Arabs agree that the situation has reached a point where there's frustration on the Israeli side. But there's also enormous frustration among the Palestinians with what the Palestinian leadership is doing - or not doing - in terms of the promises that it made or gave - we negotiate; we can deliver some sort of stability to the Palestinians. And that's not happening. So what's happening now, especially by young Palestinians, is being seen in many parts of the region as young people taking things in their own hands and telling both the Israeli leadership and the Palestinian leadership we have completely lost trust and hope in what you may be able to give us. We want to do it ourselves. What is that at the end of the day, nobody seems to really know.

MARTIN: Abderrahim Foukara is the Washington bureau chief at Al Jazeera Arabic. He was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C., studios. Abderrahim, thank you so much for speaking with us.

FOUKARA: Great to be with you again. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.