WASHINGTON – U.S. and NATO officials and the government of Afghanistan fear the Taliban will take advantage of warmer weather and roads newly freed of snow next month to increase attacks.
In a briefing last month,Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry ,the U.S. commander in Afghanistan,said,”On the surface,we're going to have some violence here this spring.”
To combat that,and help stabilize the country,the State Department said the administration is preparing a request for $10.6 billion in Afghanistan reconstruction aid,a more than 50 percent increase in the U.S. commitment.
“We're going to see some very substantial pledges on the part of the United States,both for reconstruction support as well as for military training and equipping of the Afghan army,” department spokesman Sean McCormack said at a briefing last week.
Although he would not confirm the amount,a document on the department's Web site referred to a likely request of more than $10 billion in the President's budget request. Of that,more than $8 billion would be spent in security forces to stabilize the country.
Eikenberry said he would use a large part of the new funds to build roads that will help provide jobs for more Afghans and allow them to take goods to market. This will help prevent the Taliban from recruiting freshmen to its re-gathered and re-activated troops.
In an interview with NPR,Eikenberry said,”I've used the expression before in Afghanistan that wherever we are not,the enemy is. And I've used another expression: Wherever the roads end,that's where the Taliban begins.”
Mohammad Ashraf Haidari,first secretary for political,security,and development affairs at the Afghan Embassy in Washington,confirmed an offensive is likely.
“For the purpose of achieving terror and anti-governmental activities,the Taliban and terrorists enter Afghanistan via the Pakistan border,and this will increase in the coming spring,” he said.
The government of Afghanistan,NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces and U.S. anti-terror troops are also preparing from military and construction aspects to defeat the expected spring offensive,he said.
“The insurgency has external roots and is not an internal issue,” Haidari said. “Until its Pakistan-controlled root is eradicated,we cannot overcome this issue.”
There are,however,internal problems that enable the Taliban to continue its efforts.
The Afghan government has been ineffective in providing social services,jobs with reasonable salaries,basic health facilities and the ability to improve government services. These facts,in particular,in Afghanistan's southern provinces created and increased the gap between the people and government while the Taliban and their supporters took advantage of the gap,encouraging to join by paying them well.
Poppies,one of the biggest concerns of the international community,have a huge increase in cultivation over the past few years. According the CIA Factbook,80 to 90 percent of drug consumers in Europe get heroin from Afghanistan opium,and in many southern areas,the Taliban force farmers to grow poppies.
Afghan officials are not impressed with the international community's efforts.
“Until 2004,the international community did not take the issue as seriously as they should have,” Haidari said. The government of Afghanistan established institutions such as the counter-narcotic ministry and a deputy under ministry of interior with counter- narcotics police,but it was the international community that would assist the government with efficient and appropriate alternative programs and financial aid so that the government could overcome the problem.
Pakistan,which shares a 1,500-mile border with Afghanistan,has a direct and fundamental role in the stability of Afghanistan. Pakistan's leaders insist its government is doing everything it can in the war on terror,including tracking down wanted Taliban and al-Qaida leaders and preventing them from crossing the border to Afghanistan.
In his Jan. 26,briefing,McCormack addressed the issue.
“What we have been trying to do – we first and then NATO – is try to bring the Afghans and the Pakistanis together to work on security issues along that border region. The forces that threaten Afghanistan also could pose a potential threat to Pakistan as well,so there's a real mutual interest there.”
As to the tension between the two countries,McCormack said there have been efforts to resolve it.
“They have put in place at least the groundwork for better cooperation to get after that security issue along the border region,they need to build on that. They also need to make more effective their cooperation and there are two sides to this,” he said.
In an article published in New York Post on Jan. 29,John Negroponte,the outgoing national director of intelligence who will become the No. 2 official at the State Department,said recent news from Pakistan is “troubling.”
He accused Pakistan of providing safe havens for the Taliban insurgents and their terrorist allies and that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency and others are assisting the insurgent Taliban.
Attacks by Pakistan-based militants crossing to Afghanistan have tripled since September,he wrote.
Negroponte wrote that the government in Kabul charges that Pakistan knows the whereabouts of Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Last fall,Negroponte said that Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf cut a deal with tribal leaders that gave the Taliban free rein in the areas of lawlessness in northwestern border with Afghanistan.
According to Prague-based journalist and analyst Mohammad Tahir,the Afghan media have increasingly published critical reports about Iran's secret contacts with insurgent groups in Afghanistan.
Tahir,who is an Afghan,wrote,”It was reported that in the first quarter of 2006 more than ten Iranian officials were arrested in Herat province accused of illegal engagements,General Mohammad Auyb Safi,border policeman said Afghan official news agency Bakhtar.”
Haidari said he had no evidence of these claims and that Afghanistan has good and peaceful relations with Iran.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi,D-Calif.,with a bipartisan delegation visited Afghanistan Sunday to assess the war and reconstruction with President Hamid Karzai. She also visited with U.S. troops,Ambassador Ronald Neumann,embassy personnel,Afghan parliamentarians and commanders of the International Security Assistance Forces.
“In our discussions,President Karzai stressed the crucial importance of reconstruction,” Pelosi said on her Web site.
The press release added that the delegation commended Karzai for his leadership and discussed additional steps that would enhance the authority of the central government and improve security. They also expressed concern about escalation of poppy cultivation and asked Pakistan and NATO to do more.
Another U.S. congressional delegation including Sen. Hillary Clinton,D-N.Y.,Sen. Evan Bayh,D-Ind.,and Rep. John McHugh,R-N.Y.,traveled to Afghanistan on Jan. 14 to discuss with Karzai whether more U.S. troops should be sent to fight the Taliban insurgency. At a news conference upon their return,Clinton called the reconstruction and anti-terror mission satisfactory but “fragile” and said,”We expect a big spring offensive.”
The Bush administration recently concluded a strategic internal review of U.S. policy in Afghanistan. It called for stanching the flow of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters from Pakistan,boosting foreign troops and increasing aid for reconstruction and Afghan security forces before an expected Taliban offensive this spring.
While the insurgents suffered serious battlefield defeats by U.S. troops and peacekeepers of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force,the fighting this year is predicated to be even bloodier.