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Winning hearts and wallets in Afghanistan

By Laurie Ure, CNN
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, center, walks with his Afghan counterpart Abdul Rahim Wardak in Kabul on Tuesday.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, center, walks with his Afghan counterpart Abdul Rahim Wardak in Kabul on Tuesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • U.S. and Afghan governments raise pay for Afghan troops
  • Higher pay could encourage lower-level Taliban fighters to lay down arms
  • Taliban pay around $300, senior NATO and U.S. commander Gen. McChrystal says
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(CNN) -- Two of the biggest goals for U.S. forces in Afghanistan are building up Afghan security forces and convincing Taliban fighters to lay down their arms -- and cash could come into play in achieving both.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who arrived in Afghanistan Tuesday on an unannounced trip, said money is a key reason why the Afghan government might be having recruiting and retention problems with its security forces.

"One of the eye-openers for us was learning that the Taliban for the most part are better paid than the Afghan security forces, so that's something that we and the Afghans have already taken steps to correct," Gates said. "They're raising the pay of the police and they're putting in place a number of additional incentives and bonuses and so on for the army in terms of combat pay and various things like that, so that clearly will help. I think, frankly, that's the biggest obstacle."

How much money does the Taliban pay?

Around $300, according to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior NATO and U.S. forces commander in Afghanistan.

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"There is no set pay scale, but by our intelligence, they are paying the equivalent than $300 a month and that is higher than we are paying Afghan army or police," McChrystal told the Senate Armed Services Committee, where he testified on Tuesday.

The U.S. and Afghan governments are responding by raising the pay for Afghan troops.

"In coordination with the Afghan government, we just almost doubled Afghan army and police training. It is in parity now. It is less than $300 a month but it's much closer," McChrystal told the committee.

The higher pay also could encourage lower-level Taliban fighters to lay down their weapons and join Afghan security forces.

"Obviously, you have to make it more attractive for individuals to serve on the side of the government rather than take up with the Taliban. Wages have to encourage," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

The U.S. and Afghanistan are looking to increase the Afghan security force of police and military to 300,000 strong by July 2011 from the current level of approximately 190,000. But Afghanistan, with its struggling economy, will need help to pay for that force with U.S. and international assistance for the next 10 to 15 years, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday.

"Afghanistan will not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources," Karzai said.