- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2002

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan said yesterday that the United States favors creation of an Afghan national army to keep the war-torn nation stable.
"We're sure we're going to want to have an Afghan national army, because that then becomes the tool whereby the executive authorities in Afghanistan are able to maintain control and establish their own stability," Army Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. Central Command, said at a press conference in Tampa, Fla.
Gen. Franks noted that conditions in Afghanistan remain "murky" as the interim government tries to set up a new system after the ouster of the Taliban militia.
A military team headed by Army Maj. Gen. Charles Campbell is set to return to Central Command headquarters today after making an assessment of how to build an Afghan national army.
A spokesman for the Central Command said Gen. Campbell looked at what would be needed as far as logistics and training for the new army. He will present his findings and recommendations to Gen. Franks.
The final decision will be made by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and President Bush.
Asked how an army could be set up amid competing militias now ruling parts of the country, Gen. Franks said "it's a great question."
"We're sure that the right thing to do is to have an Afghan national army," he said. "We're not at all sure what size it should be or exactly where it should [be]. We know that we want to begin the forming of this Afghan national army as quickly as we can. …"
The army would help Afghanistan with border security, police functions and other security matters, he said.
Gen. Franks said a national army should include the various ethnic and tribal groups scattered throughout Afghanistan.
Al Santoli, a congressional defense specialist, said creating a national army under the current interim government, headed by Hamid Karzai, would be a mistake.
"To try and create a national army now would be asking for trouble," Mr. Santoli said in an interview. Most of the interim government leaders are Tajiks from northern Afghanistan. An army that did not include large numbers of Pashtuns would ultimately benefit anti-U.S. elements in Afghanistan, he said.
What is needed is a legitimate, multiethnic government force, Mr. Santoli said.
Gen. Franks said it is unlikely that U.S. military forces will take part in the British-led international peacekeeping force now based in Kabul, the Afghan capital.
"We have essentially two functions that go on simultaneously inside Afghanistan, as you know," Gen. Franks said. "One is Operation Enduring Freedom, and of course that's what we do without command and control element."
The International Security Assistance Force will help to create "stability in the outlying regions," he said.
Gen. Franks said so far U.S. troops are not working to keep the peace among warlords and remain focused on destroying Taliban and al Qaeda networks.
Asked if he is concerned about "mission creep," the gradual expansion of military missions, Gen. Franks said "I don't like the word … and I have not seen evidence in this campaign of mission creep."
U.S. forces in Afghanistan are smaller in numbers than "forces we have elsewhere," he said.
Any large increases in troops "would be based on a different sort of policy or a different sort of mission guidance," Gen. Franks said.
On the location of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Ladin, blamed for the September 11 attacks, Gen. Franks said: "We simply don't know whether he is [alive] or not. And I've said before, and I'll continue to say, until I see evidence that he is not alive, then we'll continue to make the assumption that he is alive, because that continues to focus our intelligence activity."
The Bush administration's special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters in Kabul that U.S. soldiers might be sent to work with regional militias in Afghanistan.


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