July 3, 2002

July 3, 2002 | News Releases on Middle East

Evolving Situation In Afghanistan Calls For Changes In U.S. Policy, Analysts Say

WASHINGTON, Jul. 30 2002-Now that the first phase of the war in Afghanistan has concluded with a U.S. victory, American policymakers must adjust their strategy if they hope to "win the peace," a new Heritage Foundation paper says.

Forget about nation-building, say analysts James Phillips, Jack Spencer and John Hulsman. "Years of continuous warfare have created a complex constellation of regional, tribal and ethnic leaders," they note. "We can't expect them to rubber-stamp foreign plans for nation-building or bow down to a Kabul-based central government if they believe it threatens their personal power."

Besides, they say, the Karzai government is under intense public pressure to distance itself from the U.S.-led war effort, which is becoming more unpopular among southern Pashtuns, the former power base of the Taliban. Matters weren't helped by a July 1 "friendly fire" incident, in which an American gunship reportedly killed more than 40 Afghans, sparking an anti-U.S. demonstration in Kabul.

The highest priority for the U.S. military at this phase, the Heritage analysis says, is to destroy Islamic extremist groups that threaten to destabilize Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces, victims of heavy losses, have dispersed into small contingents. Ferreting them out requires the use of special forces backed by precise air strikes, rather than large conventional ground units.

And while "ultimate responsibility for guaranteeing a peaceful future belongs to the Afghan people," the analysis says, America can help the Afghans help themselves. The United States should continue to assist in training the Afghanistan army, for example, and provide expertise to help the Afghan government build necessary infrastructure and civil institutions.

But we need to know when to stop. "That means the United States shouldn't commit combat troops to an open-ended peacekeeping mission or a nation-building experiment," the report says. "U.S. troops are needed to eliminate the terrorists and crush rogue regimes that support them, not to undertake vague missions to win hearts and minds. Such political goals are better pursued by other means, including diplomacy, economic aid and technical assistance."

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