Stability a 2nd front in Afghanistan

U.S., allied help sought in ensuring long-term security

March 09, 2002|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - As American and allied troops battle Taliban and al-Qaida forces in the rugged mountains outside Gardez, U.S. officials are facing what may be an equally formidable challenge: ensuring long-term stability and lasting peace in Afghanistan.

Hamid Karzai, the country's interim leader, and other Afghan officials complain that warlords and lawlessness are threatening the country's fragile stability. For weeks they have been pressing U.S. and foreign leaders to expand the number of peacekeeping troops and send them to areas far from Kabul, the capital, the only place now being patrolled by the British-led international force of about 4,400 troops.

So far, U.S. officials have said no to deploying American soldiers as a peacekeeping force, for fear of being bogged down in an endless operation and because of commitments elsewhere. Most European allies show no interest in increasing their current peacekeeping forces.

Victoria Clarke, spokeswoman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, told reporters this week that there is still an "active conversation" about the future of the international security force. She gave no indication when decisions would be made.

"One of our military objectives ... is to keep Afghanistan from returning to ... a safe haven, a free-ranging field, if you will, for terrorists," she said. "So helping them achieve some internal security and stability will help us achieve one of our military objectives."

The discussion within the Bush administration and among the allies, Rumsfeld has said, is whether the focus should be on the international force or on creating a new Afghan army. And Rumsfeld said an army is critical, noting that the international force "ultimately will leave and create an unstable situation" unless "there is something to take their place."

Rumsfeld and Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the commander of the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan, have repeatedly said no U.S. forces would be used as peacekeepers, while the British say they plan on reducing their contingent in the 18-member multinational force. France and Germany, who are among the leading contributors, have no intention of adding more troops, officials said.

Turkey is one of the few force participants willing to beef up its presence, from its current level of 261 troops to 1,000 - as long as someone else pays the millions of dollars in added costs. Turkish officials are talking with the Pentagon and State Department about taking over leadership of the peacekeeping mission from the British this spring.

There is no indication when or even whether additional Turkish troops will be dispatched outside Kabul. "The U.S. hasn't come to terms on that," said Mehmet Ali Bayar, a spokesman for the Embassy of Turkey here. "We don't know what we're volunteering for."

Now the debate over an expanded security force for Afghanistan is reaching a state of urgency, with the recent killing of a government minister in Kabul, fighting among warlords in the northern and eastern part of the country and general lawlessness in the south, some officials say.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Bush's envoy to Afghanistan, met with Karzai recently and is pressing for a greater U.S. role in the peacekeeping effort. He offered few specifics beyond some vague options: using U.S. special forces troops to resolve conflicts among warlords, assigning international military advisers to troubled cities and deploying an expanded multinational security force across the country.

"We need to come up with an answer relatively soon," Khalilzad told reporters upon his return. "It's a complicated situation. We want Afghanistan not to return to warlordism."

Khalilzad knows the territory. The envoy was born in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif and played high school basketball in Kabul before heading off to the University of Chicago to study international security affairs.

As for a capable Afghan army, one will not materialize overnight. The recruiting and training of such a force has just begun, and the process will take months, if not years, forcing U.S. officials to come up with an interim plan.

Ivo Daalder, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and a member of the National Security Council staff during the Clinton administration, said Khalilzad has a sense of what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan.

"His warning is stark," said Daalder, who advocates sending in tens of thousands of additional foreign troops until an Afghan army can be fielded.

"You have a security disaster. This is worse than Bosnia. Worse than Kosovo," Daalder said. To ensure more allied participation, the United States must take a leadership role in such a force, he said, a view that is shared by some on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat.

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