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A sharp debate is under way right now between the White House and the Pentagon over president Obama's war strategy in Afghanistan.
As the president's national security team considers the size and speed of -- troop draw down that the president long ago promised to begin the next month.
There are new questions about the impact of US policy on Afghanistan's economy ago.
As we heard earlier this hour the US spent about nineteen billion dollars in nation building projects in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2010.
Lately the pace is picking up 320.
Million dollars a month in civilian aid.
Of Afghanistan's economy is based on foreign aid.
And military spending so what happens if and when that goes away.
Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow forest policy studies at the Brookings Institution he is just back from Afghanistan.
Are you optimistic about the situation there Michael.
Well I think it is showing more promise than it had been -- my previous trips I was in Helmand Province and Kandahar primarily.
And as you know that's we put a lot of the forces in 20092010.
Took back a lot of the areas fighting with Afghan forces which provided about half the total capability and that's good news to.
And our waiting to see how well the -- bond can sort of retake territory -- amounts.
Bombings and assassinations.
Now that is sort of -- spring fighting season as they call it over there.
But generally speaking a lot more of -- southern provinces is within the control.
Government and NATO.
One example is that government officials now move around by road instead of by helicopter because it's much safer on those roads in places like Helmand Province.
So there's still big issues in Afghanistan but what I'm seeing at the local level is a lot more encouraging.
Well as you well know the president.
Bucked his base almost a year and a half ago when he announced the troop surge in Afghanistan.
Now that year and a half is almost up and those troops are supposed to start coming home next month his base is saying c'mon Mr.
President let's pull a bunch of them out.
If you were advising him how would you argue.
Well I used.
Have an open mind on that because I wanted to see how it 20102011.
Would -- out but I believe there's enough progress on the ground that we should basically stick with the strategy.
And the strategy implies a very gradual draw down because we don't yet know how effective -- -- -- is gonna be coming back into Kandahar and Helmand in the south.
As I just mentioned a minute ago and even if we are in good shape there.
We wanna be gradual and handing off responsibility over the next twelve months to the Afghans in those provinces and that we have to swing some more American forces to the east -- he still does not have enough forces -- -- the current strategy.
Adequately and that means that some of any forces that we can free up in the south should not come home right away but in fact they should go to the east not just explaining the strategy as -- exists.
And that would imply I think fairly gradual draw downs for about another twelve to fifteen months.
You have to make a judgment as to whether the strategy is working well enough to stick -- And my assessment is yes but that's gotta be one of the big issues in the coming weeks of debate.
There's also that report out of the congress the Jennifer Griffin alluded to just a short time ago suggesting that right now.
Of the economy in Afghanistan.
Funds that the US and NATO is pouring in there.
Either for military operations or for reconstruction projects you can't poll 97%.
In the nation's economy out quickly.
Without having huge terrible -- consequences can.
You're right about that and by the way I could quibble with that 97% figure but the basic point is correct that we do have -- huge amount of resource is going into Afghanistan.
You know I'm not as concerned however about a few distortions to the economy as I'm concerned that in the past we didn't really know who you're giving the money to and we wound up.
Favoring some of the corrupt factors and we favored certain tribes over others which made all the people who are not getting money are natural enemies and gave them.
And allegiance to the -- bond.
We're much more sophisticated now and understanding sort of the anthropology of Afghanistan.
To make sure that more that money is widely and evenly dispersed and that's one more of the reasons why I'm slightly encouraged about what I'm seeing but -- -- right.
Any rapid change is gonna have big implications there.
You know there will be fairly rapid changes because by 2014.
With the current strategy we have to be way down in the number of forces probably down by.
You know 80%.
And so over a three year period we're gonna see a lot of draw down the big question is do we begin that in a major way in the next few months or do we delay it.
Essentially for another twelve to fifteen months that's what the president has to decide.
Michael O'Hanlon is with the Brookings Institution and just back from Afghanistan Michael thank you.
My pleasure another top story --
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