U.S. troops likely to stay in Afghanistan for years

Army official says goal is stability and security

August 16, 2002|By HEARST NEWSPAPERS

WASHINGTON - U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan for several years to help stabilize the country and keep terrorists from returning, said U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of military operations in the region.

Officials had avoided predicting the duration of the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Franks' comments at a Pentagon news conference yesterday were the first time any high-level commander has revealed the extent of the commitment planned for the nation.

"It does not surprise me that someone would say, `Oh, gosh. The military's going to be in Afghanistan for a long, long time,'" Franks said. "Sure we will be."

Asked whether U.S. troops would be in Afghanistan for years, Franks responded: "I would agree with that."

Troops would remain until the nascent Afghan government is properly functioning, he said. Once the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai takes root and can perform security duties, Franks said, the need for U.S. forces would diminish.

"One will see less need for the level of security cooperation - that means the number of troops we have now. And I think we would not be wise to put a timeline on when we see that happening," he said.

American troops are training an Afghan army to take over the nation's security needs.

Franks alluded to an open-ended commitment and compared the emerging military ties with Afghanistan to the relationship with South Korea, where U.S. forces have been stationed since 1948 to defend against an attack from North Korea.

In response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11 that killed nearly 3,000 people, the United States launched a reprisal Oct. 7 against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban government and al-Qaida fighters.

There are now more than 8,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and 9,000 from other nations.

Karzai has limited control of the country, and Afghan militias jockey for primacy. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, however, called the nation's general security "reasonably good" except for an area southeast of Kabul.

At the same news conference, Rumsfeld said another major challenge in Afghanistan is nurturing the Karzai government so that it can perform basic civil functions - something that will take time.

"We didn't go in there in a way that allows it to turn back into a terrorist training camp. We went in there so that that would not happen," Rumsfeld said.

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