- The Washington Times - Monday, July 15, 2002

The Pentagon is examining the mix of forces in Afghanistan amid suggestions that the military forge closer relations with villagers to ease the transition from Taliban theocracy to Western democracy.
Discussions are being carried out by the Joint Staff the Joint Chiefs policy arm and by civilian leaders as the war in Afghanistan passes the nine-month mark.
Some are advocating more conventional forces to aid stabilization. Others believe more civil affairs and special-operations forces should be introduced because the likelihood of another large ground battle is remote. The main mission now should be to win over the countryside, these officials say.
"There is a feeling we're stuck," says one senior administration official. He says there is a push from Pentagon leaders to come up with new ideas to hasten the transition.
One idea is to bring in more civil affairs officers who would work directly with villagers to help them rebuild and modernize operations. The aim is to forge bonds with the various tribes who make up Afghanistan's fractious population.
"You cannot put more troops in Afghanistan to just sit on the country," says the senior official. "You have to be engaged with the people. Afghanistan is run by tribalism and warlordism. You can't totally change that. But you can't let it become a petri dish for terrorism either."
There are military-to-village contacts today. But some in the Pentagon would like to broaden the program while decreasing some of the 7,000 U.S. troops in the country, commanded by Lt. Gen. Dan K. O'Neill.
With most al Qaeda dead or out of the country, and with Taliban fighters returning to their villages, the job of finding the last holdouts falls to special-operations troops, not conventional forces.
Gen. O'Neill earlier this month provided a hint of what this switch in deployments may look like.
After an AC-130 gunship accidently killed Afghan villagers July 1 in Uruzgan province, Gen. O'Neill dispatched civil affairs officers and humanitarian workers to the area. Their job will be to help the region rebuild and to win the loyalty of Afghans who might otherwise aid a Taliban guerrilla campaign against the new government in Kabul.
The three-star general oversees two main missions: stabilizing Afghanistan and hunting down the small pockets of hard-core Taliban and al Qaeda who move in roughly two-thirds of Afghanistan's 32 provinces.
The 82nd Airborne Division is arriving to relieve the 101st. Unlike previous Army ground units, this time the 82nd brought artillery. This, too, has sparked debate.
"Who are they going to shoot with howitzers?" asks a Pentagon official, noting that there is little prospect that either the Taliban or al Qaeda will mass in significant numbers. The British Royal Marines have completed a tour in Afghanistan in which they repeatedly scoured the mountains of eastern Afghanistan. They never encountered the enemy.
The war is a game of cat and mouse, officials say, as the United States hunts the enemy one or two at a time, sometimes spending weeks trying to corral one senior Taliban officer.
One problem in putting more special-operations forces inside Afghanistan is the units are now stretched thin around the globe. The Green Berets have called up reserves to meet obligations in Afghanistan, the Philippines, Yemen, Georgia and other countries.
Civil affairs battalions, a branch of special operations, also are in demand. "We have plans to use these units in Iraq after Saddam is gone," says a senior Army officer at the Pentagon. "We don't have enough to use them at both Afghanistan and Iraq. And our allies seem not to want to help in either endeavor."
This officer says U.S. Central Command, which directs operations in Afghanistan, also should request more Army military police. MPs would provide "a small, light, very fast-striking deterrent force to protect our troops," the officer says. "We don't have enough MPs to do the job."
"The thing we need the most, and have the least of, is Special Forces. But even if we had the money to establish another group, we can't feed qualified sergeants into our existing groups fast enough to keep them filled at 12 per team."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz visits Kabul today to meet with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai. A likely topic is the future size and mix of U.S. forces. Mr. Karzai is pushing for a larger international peacekeeping force, spread out across his country. Washington is wary of creating what would be new targets for Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorists.
While some inside the Pentagon believe the Afghan mission is stuck, publicly officials talk of solid progress, with much work still to be done.
"We've got a long way to go in the war on terrorism, including in Afghanistan, but we have made significant progress in the war on terrorism," Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said at a recent press briefing. "We've made it harder for the al Qaeda to operate. We've helped Afghanistan get on its feet and head toward a long-term stability. It's a long road, but we're confident they will get there."


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