- The Washington Times - Friday, December 7, 2001

The State Department's point man on the future of Afghanistan yesterday sketched out a very limited role for U.S. troops in a planned international peacekeeping mission once the Taliban is subdued and a new multiethnic government is in place.

Richard N. Haass, director of the State Department's policy planning staff, said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday that he also envisioned a very restricted role for the international force in maintaining order in Afghanistan.

The foreign forces will be limited to perhaps a few major cities and supply routes, while the bulk of security "has to come from essentially Afghan forces reporting to the central government as part of this new national army that's going to be built," Mr. Haass said.

"There's no way that an international security force can provide point defense for every aid convoy or every international worker in every square inch of Afghan territory. That would simply spread it too thin," he added.

The modest U.S. role foreseen by Mr. Haass was pointedly questioned by lawmakers, some of whom thought it was not enough and some of whom worried it was still too large.

Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said he feared the Bush administration was being "Pollyannaish" in believing that Afghan forces were ready to assume a major peacekeeping role in a country where Taliban resistance and lawlessness could last for years.

And Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, said the famine and humanitarian crisis facing Afghans this winter called for a more aggressive U.S. response, if only to ensure the delivery of food and medical supplies.

"I don't think right now we can rely on Northern Alliance or Afghan forces to do this, and we don't have a lot of time," Mr. Wellstone said.

But Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, said he feared the United States and the international security force will get bogged down in the factional fighting of post-Taliban Afghanistan that he said has already begun, despite Wednesday's accord reached in Bonn on an interim government.

Recalling a similar U.S. humanitarian mission a decade ago that went sour, Mr. Helms said: "Some have suggested we need a peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, to which there is a one-word answer: Somalia."

One key Afghan opposition figure, ethnic Uzbek warlord Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, already has said he would boycott the interim government. Gen. Dostum, whose forces dominate a large swath of territory in the country's north, complained that he had not been adequately represented in the Bonn talks.

"We are very sad," Gen. Dostum told the Reuters news service by satellite telephone from northern Afghanistan. He said his supporters "will not go to Kabul until there is a proper government in place."

When the international force would enter Afghanistan is another delicate question. Mr. Haass said the Bush administration was insisting that the proposed force not interfere in any way with the still-unfinished military campaign to defeat the Taliban and eradicate Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, in Brussels for a meeting with top NATO ministers, told reporters that Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander of the war effort, would be in charge of all coalition forces in the region "for the foreseeable future."

But Mr. Powell said the composition of the international peacekeeping force, its military leadership and the date when it will enter Afghanistan have yet to be worked out.

He said it would be difficult to get the new force into Afghanistan by Dec. 22, the day the interim government is supposed to come into being.

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