- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

The Bush administration is divided over whether to build up the international peacekeeping force in Afghanistan in the face of deteriorating security in several parts of the country.

Yesterday, British peacekeeping forces came under fire in the capital, Kabul, and a U.N. official said thousands of ethnic Pashtuns were fleeing from the north of the country because of persecution by regional warlords.

The CIA, meanwhile, has warned of potential chaos as ethnic factions resist the authority of the central government, which is backed by the United States and an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

U.N. spokesman Yusuf Hassan said about 20,000 Afghans fleeing drought, hunger and ethnic strife have traveled to Chaman on the Pakistani border in recent days.

"It is a very disturbing picture of gross human rights violations," Mr. Hassan said.

"Commanders in [northern] areas are instigating the locals to rob them and kill and harass the Pashtun population," Mr. Hassan said, citing reports by refugees fleeing the area.

He did not say how many had fled because of ethnic tensions and how many were seeking food.

Mazar-e-Sharif and other northern Afghan cities and regions were treated harshly by the mainly ethnic Pashtun militias of the Taliban regime from 1998 until they were ousted last year with U.S. air support.

The region is controlled now by the Northern Alliance and other militias dominated by ethnic Tajik and Uzbek warlords who enjoy U.S. backing.

The United Nations has complained to the Kabul-based interim government of Hamid Karzai, but many of the problems are occurring in "areas where there is no national authority," Mr. Hassan said.

The CIA warning about ethnic warlords, first reported yesterday by the New York Times, said open civil war is not on the horizon but that the country could descend into chaos.

The Afghan interim government has asked that the international peacekeeping force be increased from the current maximum size of 4,000 troops stationed around Kabul to perhaps 20,000 troops, which would be deployed around the country.

The Pentagon opposes expanding the force and prefers to spend the money on training an Afghan national army, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Wednesday.

"The question is, do you want to put your time and effort and money into the International Security Assistance Force take it from, say, 5,000 to 20,000 people?" Mr. Rumsfeld asked during a visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. "There's one school of thought that thinks that's a desirable thing to do.

"Another school of thought, which is where my brain is, is that why put all the time and money and effort in that? Why not put it into helping them develop a national army so that they can look out for themselves over time?"

The State Department, however, is said to support expanding the 17-nation ISAF, which includes no American troops.

"There are definitely other points of view within the U.S. government on what to do about the ISAF," said a State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "There is now no agreement on how to proceed."


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