- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

The United States faces growing pressure to approve an increase in U.N. peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan as rival warlords continue to undermine the interim government of Hamid Karzai.
Amid such pressures, the Bush administration continues to rule out any direct involvement of U.S. combat troops in peacekeeping, leaving the present U.N. force of about 4,500 troops under British control.
In addition, Gen. Richard B. Meyers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday that the United States is unlikely to sign off on an expansion of peacekeeping troops beyond the capital of Kabul.
"I don't think that's something for the U.S. to allow," Gen. Meyers told CNN yesterday.
He also said the United States would continue to limit its role in peacekeeping to "some logistics and with a few liaison personnel."
Since the Karzai government was installed in December, the United States has kept its troops focused on hunting down and destroying remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban a mission underscored by more than a week of fighting in the icy mountains of eastern Afghanistan's Paktia province.
But with the battle in Paktia winding down and U.S. troops yesterday beginning a withdrawal from the area, ethnic rivalries once again surfaced to challenge Mr. Karzai's government.
A top local commander demanded that hundreds of mainly ethnic Tajik reinforcements sent by Mr. Karzai be withdrawn from the mainly Pashtun area of the battle.
"We propose to Mr. Hamid Karzai to instruct the newcoming troops to go back to their places of origin," commander Mohammad Ismail told reporters in the provincial capital of Gardez yesterday.
"We take this opportunity to state that the issue of Paktia be purely left to the people of Paktia," he said.
The standoff in Paktia illustrated the dilemma facing Mr. Karzai throughout much of Afghanistan: Local warlords continue to rule with their private armies.
Washington argues that the best solution to ethnic rivalries is to build a national, multiethnic Afghan army.
"The question is: Do you want to put your time and effort and money into the International Security Assistance Force take it say from 5,000 to 20,000 people?" Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said.
"Another school of thought, which is where my brain is: Why put all the time and effort and money in that?" Mr. Rumsfeld told reporters during a visit to Nevada late last month.
The Bush administration is considering:
Allowing U.S. forces to act in a limited peacekeeping role, perhaps by mediating disputes between rival warlords.
Beefing up the present 4,500-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), as the peacekeeping force is formally known. The force now consists of troops from Britain and 17 other nations excluding the United States.
Training a future Afghan national army to deal with the warlords.
''We're sure that the right thing to do is to have an Afghan national army," said Gen. Tommy Franks, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Within the Bush administration, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell is said to be the most supportive of increasing the peacekeeping force, but only as a temporary measure to keep warlord fighting in check for the next year or two while a national army is being trained.
Despite potential problems posed by local warlords, a senior Bush administration official said plans to rebuild the shattered country remain on track.
"There's been a history of warlord conflict in Afghanistan," said the official, who asked not to be named.
"We went into this aware of the threat. We went into this with a sober, realistic recognition of the complicated, bloody history of Afghanistan that allowed al Qaeda to establish its base.
Ethnic and tribal rivalries have plagued the Karzai government almost from the moment it took power in December.
Factional fighting left dozens dead in Paktia province months before the present battle between U.S. troops and enemy fighters.
More than 60 people died Dec. 20 when U.S. jets attacked a convoy of tribal elders as they traveled to Kabul for the inauguration of Mr. Karzai an attack reportedly triggered by a rival tribal leader who told the Americans that the convoy was full of al Qaeda leaders.
Fighting broke out again in Paktia in late January, when a shura, or local tribal council, objected to Mr. Karzai's choice of warlord Bacha Khan as governor.
After about 60 people died in fighting, Mr. Karzai agreed last month to withdraw his candidate and allow another local warlord, Taj Mohammed Wardak, to be governor.
In the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, under the control of warlord Gul Agha, traders complain that they are not safe if they travel to the western city of Herat, which is under the control of another warlord, Ismail Khan.
U.N. officials say ethnic Pashtuns are fleeing Mazar-e-Sharif in the north, in fear of troops loyal to warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, an ethnic Uzbek.
Gen. Dostum's forces have also clashed in the north with rival warlord Mohammed Atta, an ethnic Tajik, even though the two had joined forces in the Northern Alliance to drive the Taliban from power.
Afghanistan consists of a maze of ethnic groups.
Mainly in the south and east are Pashtuns, who make up about 38 percent of the population. Pashtuns have historically played a dominant leadership role in Afghanistan and retain ethnic ties to about 8 million Pashtuns across the border in Pakistan. Tajiks in the north and northeast comprise about 25 percent of the population, while Turkic-speaking Uzbeks and Turkmen in the northwest form about 11 percent of the population.
The Shi'ite Muslim Hazaras in central Afghanistan make up about 15 percent, with smaller ethnic groups accounting for the rest.
Afghan tribal and political leaders at a U.N.-sponsored council in Bonn last fall chose Mr. Karzai, primarily because he was an ethnic Pashtun with links to Afghanistan's exiled former king, the Americans and the anti-Taliban resistance based in Pakistan.
But the next three top government posts went to the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance: Abdullah Abdullah as foreign minister, Mohammed Fahim as defense minister and Yunus Qanuni as interior minister.
Initially Gen. Dostum felt excluded and refused to back the Karzai government. He relented when offered the post of deputy defense minister.
Still, Gen. Dostum remains in his stronghold of Mazar-e-Sharif, keeping his distance from Kabul.
The Karzai government was shaken when a mob stormed a plane at Kabul airport last month and beat to death the Cabinet minister for transportation and tourism, Abdul Rahman.
Reports said the mob was angry after waiting in the cold for flights to the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, but Mr. Karzai accused Cabinet-level officials in his own government of the killing.
Because pockets of resistance exist in places such as Paktia province, there is more tension over which warlord controls the area than elsewhere in Afghanistan, the Bush administration official said.
"We don't see that kind of tension in Herat," which is under the undisputed control of Ismail Khan.
In the north, including the city of Mazar-e-Sharif, "three established warlords came together to control Mazar. It's a positive sign, but we are realistic," the official said.
Afghanistan's envoy to Washington, Haroun Amin, said in an interview that while his country has traditionally been decentralized, the way to get back to that loose federation is through the central government of Mr. Karzai.
"Initially, when the [U.S.] campaign started in Afghanistan, there was a sense of helping out certain 'warlords,' to dislodge the Taliban," Mr. Amin said.
"That created a tendency that did not enhance the central government, which does not have full authority over all quarters of Afghanistan," he said. "The policy of our administration is to enhance the central authority by channeling all [aid] efforts through Kabul.
Afghanistan functioned as a loose confederation of local leaders until 1979, when the Soviets tried to create a strong central regime and override the local leaders, said Larry Goodson of Bentley College in Waltham, Mass.
The Taliban made the same mistake, said Mr. Goodson, author of "Afghanistan's Endless War" and an associate professor of international studies at Bentley.
"Afghanistan has never been a strong state. It has never, at least not in the last 100 years, had a powerful government in Kabul that really controlled what happened out in the provinces and the countryside.
"And to a certain extent, no matter what we would try to do, it won't have one in the near future."
"Ultimately," he said, "the United States will have to say some warlords are OK and some are the bad guys."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide