Afghans need U.S. to do more

January 06, 2004|By Karl F. Inderfurth

WASHINGTON - After three weeks of sometimes heated debate in the loya jirga (grand national council), 502 Afghan delegates have approved a constitution for their country - a major milestone in Afghanistan's political development since the Taliban were ousted by U.S. forces shortly after 9/11.

The adoption of the constitution - which is flawed in some respects (as was the U.S. Constitution in 1787) - clearly demonstrates that Afghans are committed to the path they set for themselves in the U.N.-sponsored Bonn accords of 2001. That agreement established the interim Afghan government and a timetable leading to national elections in 2004. The Afghans are doing their part.

The United States and the international community must also do theirs.

Afghanistan's most urgent need today is greater security. A recent U.N. Security Council mission to Afghanistan concluded that a resurgent Taliban, al-Qaida and forces loyal to renegade warlord commanders pose a "significant threat" to the country.

More than 400 people - including foreign aid workers, U.S. soldiers, Afghan military and civilians and insurgents - have been killed since August, the bloodiest period since the Taliban's overthrow. Without a more secure environment, Afghanistan's efforts to establish a more representative government and rebuild the country will fail.

The recently released report of an independent task force, co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Asia Society, expressed "serious concerns that the United States is still failing to address underlying security problems" in Afghanistan. Unless the United States does much more, the country "could well slide back into the warlord-dominated anarchy that set the stage for the Taliban and al-Qaida," it said.

To prevent this from happening, the task force recommended a number of immediate actions the United States should take, including:

Accelerated training for the new Afghan National Army and police force. The current goal of 9,000 troops by this summer is inadequate. Instead, the United States should seek a force of about 27,000, which would give the Afghan government a reasonable peacekeeping capability.

Greater support for the U.N.-led program to disarm and demobilize warlord militias, estimated to be up to 100,000 fighters. This is a long-overdue effort that is only now getting under way, in part because of Pentagon reluctance to authorize active participation by the U.S. military in the program.

Expansion of security responsibilities by the 5,500-member International Security Assistance Force, which has been confined to the capital of Kabul. Initially resisted by the United States (to avoid interfering with its 11,000 troops in Afghanistan), the Security Council recently authorized the NATO-led peacekeeping force to send troops anywhere in the country to address the worsening security situation. But NATO's implementation of that decision has been too slow and too few.

The task force also recommended that additional provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs) be deployed throughout Afghanistan. These teams, made up of 50 to 70 U.S. soldiers along with political and economic specialists, have been a stabilizing factor in the five areas where they are located. The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan now says six more will be put in place in the southern and eastern areas of the country that have been most vulnerable to militant attacks. According to Lt. Gen. David Barno, "Expanding the PRTs and rapidly expanding in that part of the country will have a dramatic effect, not only on security but in accelerating development."

The chief U.N. envoy in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, has warned that despite the enormous changes that have taken place in Afghanistan since 2001, the peace process in that country is not yet irreversible. The key to making it so is to provide the necessary security to allow political and reconstruction efforts to proceed.

Afghans are doing their part. So must we.

Karl F. Inderfurth, assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs from 1997 to 2001, is a professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

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