- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 27, 2002

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said yesterday the Pentagon would not oppose expanding the scope of the international security force in Afghanistan, but turned aside calls by Democratic lawmakers for an open-ended U.S. commitment to help police the country.

The U.N.-authorized International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), a 19-nation, 5,000-strong security force now commanded by Turkey, has established order in the immediate environs of the Afghan capital of Kabul, but has no presence in huge swaths of the country where local warlords hold sway.

The United States, while heading Operation Enduring Freedom targeting Afghan-based terrorists, provides logistics and intelligence support to ISAF. But the Pentagon has consistently rejected calls by leaders of the interim Afghan government and international aid groups to participate in a larger peacekeeping mission.

Repeatedly citing Afghanistan's size, its difficult terrain and the unfinished campaign against the terrorist al Qaeda network, Mr. Wolfowitz told a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing yesterday, "No one is saying that we're opposed to expanding ISAF or opposed to having it play other roles."

"Our biggest problem so far has been sustaining [the security force] in its present role," Mr. Wolfowitz added, noting that Turkey expressed "extreme reluctance" to lead any mission beyond Kabul when it agreed to take over command of ISAF from Britain earlier this month.

Several ISAF nations have said their military budgets would be severely stretched to support a broad-based mission in Afghanistan.

Mr. Wolfowitz's comments echoed those of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who has said he would not oppose an expansion, but has put strict limits on U.S. participation.

But Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said confining the security force to Kabul amounted to a "warlord strategy" allowing Afghanistan's regional military barons to impose their own brand of stability on the country, risking the military gains of the U.S.-led campaign.

"Will we stay the course and build security in Afghanistan, or will we permit this country to relapse into chaos?" Mr. Biden asked.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said newly installed Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Afghan women's groups have also pushed for a broader mandate for ISAF as the fledgling government struggles to recruit and train its own army and police force.

"That's the burden of being the leader of the free world," said Mrs. Boxer. "And in this particular case, we cannot afford failure."

But Mr. Wolfowitz said the U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan has been to leave as "small a footprint as possible" in the campaign against the terrorists.

"We want history ultimately to judge us as having been dedicated to liberation, not occupation," Mr. Wolfowitz said.

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