- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan President Bush's special envoy to Afghanistan said yesterday that the United States is considering placing its military advisers in areas of potential conflict between rival warlords to prevent fighting.
"I believe that the warlords do not want to go back to war," special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters in Kabul. "But if the Afghans want to go back to war, there are not enough international forces to stop them."
Mr. Khalilzad said: "Military advisers could be put in areas where there is the danger of potential conflict among forces or armies that exist in order to deter and discourage a return to conflict."
The envoy's remarks signaled an expanding role for U.S. combat troops, whose primary mission is to destroy the al Qaeda terrorist group and remnants of the Taliban government.
Even in a peacemaking, or referee role, American advisers would have the ability to call in U.S. air strikes at will.
Mr. Khalilzad also hinted that the British-led peacekeeping force, which is separate from U.S. forces, could also be expanded from the 4,500 troops now assigned to Kabul.
An expansion of the so-called International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), he said, would not mark a change in U.S. policy since "possible ISAF expansion was clear from the beginning."
But the best long-term solution to Afghanistan's woes, he said, is the creation of a national army and, in the meantime, U.S. forces could assist in keeping warlords from fighting each other.
"[Where] we have special forces in place, those forces could be given this additional mission of advising, with regard to a discouragement of a return to conflict," he said.
Interim Afghan leader Hamid Karzai has repeatedly called for a larger peacekeeping force that would deploy troops outside Kabul, but has received no commitments.
The 4,500-member British-led force is currently limited to the capital, and U.S. officials are divided over how and whether to expand the force.
In the deadliest factional fighting since the defeat of the ruling Taliban last fall, scores of Afghans were killed when rival militias battled for control of Gardez, the capital of Paktia province in eastern Afghanistan.
U.S. troops did not get involved in that clash.
Last week, however, U.S. forces did attack tribal forces near the southeast city of Khost during a fight with a rival army. U.S. officials said the intervention was to protect American forces on the ground.
A team of American military specialists has already been sent to Afghanistan to assess how to build a national army.
As long as "there are multiple armies in the country, [the government] is still subjected to conflicting pressures," Mr. Khalilzad said.
Mr. Khalilzad was in Kabul yesterday to meet with members of a tribal council, which will select representatives of a national assembly this spring. The assembly, known as a loya jirga, will choose a new government to take over when Mr. Karzai's six-month mandate ends.
Responding to questions from reporters, Mr. Khalilzad said, "there would never be American troops under ISAF; however, the Americans, in addition to providing a potential rescue role for ISAF, will continue to provide logistical and intelligence support."
A senior Western diplomat in Kabul also recently referred to the American forces as ISAF's "escape hatch."
When asked under what circumstances ISAF might need American evacuation, the special envoy said, "our fear is that through mistrust they could do things that might lead to war."

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