CIA Warns That Afghan Factions May Bring Chaos

The New York Times , Feb.21, 2002

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20 The Central Intelligence Agency has warned in a classified report that Afghanistan could once again fall into violent chaos if steps are not taken to restrain the competition for power among rival warlords and to control ethnic tensions, senior American officials said today.

The report comes as the Bush administration is sharply divided over how to maintain peace in Afghanistan in coming months.

There is broad agreement that Afghanistan's security can be assured by setting up an Afghan army, a national police force and an effective legal system while encouraging heavily armed and squabbling militias to disband.

But American officials say it could take many months before an Afghan military is put in place. Efforts to develop a police force have also made little headway.

"No one even talks about the actual situation", gingerly complained a skeptical development professional from Europe while talking to this scribe upon his return from Kabul in Mid January in 2002. "There is no peace, no security -not even in Kabul. Streets get deserted by 6 or 7 in the evening. Once I tried to go out and the soldiers of the Northern Alliance stopped the car, opened the door, pulled by clothes and demanded money, all the while saying: 'paisa,' 'paisa'. The Coalition forces control only parts of the city. I wonder how the donors would spend the already approved billions of dollars. I think it's a big game which we may never understand.

Abid Ullah Jan
The Statesman, February 5, 2002

The C.I.A. report does not conclude that a civil war is imminent. But the slow pace of the efforts to set up a police and military force has been of particular concern because of Afghanistan's longstanding ethnic rivalries and the difficulties the interim Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, has had in trying to assert his control over the country, much of which remains in the hands of warlords.

"If it takes six months or more than a year to create a single army, what do we do in the meantime to deter war among the warlords?" a senior official said.

As a stopgap measure now, the State Department is urging that the nearly 4,000-strong international security force in Kabul be enlarged so that it could also serve in other Afghan cities.

"What the State Department is suggesting is that there are a few other places outside of Kabul where the international force could assist the Afghans in providing security," a State Department official said. "As a result the Afghans would do a better job and would be less likely to fall into conflict with each other in doing so."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his civilian deputies at the Pentagon, however, have challenged this approach. Defense officials have argued in private meetings that the expansion of the force is unnecessary and would divert resources, including aircraft, from the broader American campaign against terrorism.

Today, Pentagon went public with its objections. It was a rare window into an administration that prides itself on keeping its internal disputes under wraps.

"The question is, do you want to put your time and effort and money into the International Security Assistance Force go take it from, say, 5,000 to 20,000 people?" Mr. Rumsfeld said during a visit to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, alluding to the State Department approach. "There's one school of thought that thinks that's a desirable thing to do."

"Another school of thought, which is where my brain is, is that why put all the time and money and effort in that?" Mr. Rumsfeld added. "Why not put it into helping them develop a national army so that they can look out for themselves over time?"

While the Defense and State Departments are at odds, Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the head of the United States Central Command, has not raised objections to an expanded force or taken a firm stand on the issue, a military official said.

The worries over stability and security in Afghanistan have been fueled by the recent killing of the Afghan aviation and tourism minister in Kabul, a melee at the Kabul stadium, skirmishes between rival militia in Khost and meddling by Iran in Afghanistan.

Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior aide on President Bush's National Security Council and the Bush Administration's special envoy to Afghanistan, left today for Kabul. Administration officials said one purpose of the mission was to assess the uneasy security situation there and provide moral support to Mr. Karzai.

Officials familiar with the C.I.A. assessment said that it concluded that the danger of a civil war is not immediate. But a senior American official said the report warned that the "seeds of civil conflict" are still present in Afghanistan, given its weak national institutions and long- standing ethnic tensions.

"The report points out that there are tensions between the central and regional authorities and competitions for power within the regions," a senior official said. "The basic message is that we can't be complacent. There is a medium-term potential for a renewal of civil conflict and problems out there that need to be addressed."

Even before the new C.I.A. assessment was circulated the security dilemma confronting the Bush administration was clear.

But the power of the warlords themselves has been enhanced by the money and weapons that the United States has funneled to regional leaders who have helped Washington to root out Al Qaeda fighters and the former Taliban government.

The debate now is over how much of an effort Washington needs to make to keep the country from slipping back into chaos and provide security for international efforts to rebuild the country.

The long-term plan is to help the new Afghan government establish control over the country by raising an Afghan army with 50,000 soldiers and a national police force. The United States and Britain are taking the lead in training the army while Germany is to train the police.

But the effort to set up an army is just getting under way. The British are training the first 600-member battalion, a task that is scheduled to take about six weeks.

A two-star American general only recently arrived in Afghanistan to assess its military needs. There is as yet no schedule for how long it might take to establish an army. Some officials say the process could take six months; others say it is likely to take more than a year.

To fill the vacuum, Mr. Karzai proposed during a meeting last month with President Bush that the international security force be expanded to other cities in Afghanistan. In addition to Mr. Karzai, warlords in Herat, Mazar-i-Sharif and Jalalabad have told American officials that they would welcome such a step.

The issue is all the more urgent because Afghanistan is due to convene a loya jirga, or grand council, in the next few months to pick a new government. Security for the conference and the new government that comes afterward is critical.

State Department officials and the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw, say Mr. Karzai has a strong case. But like Mr. Rumsfeld, the British Defense Ministry is much less enthusiastic. Britain has deployed 2,000 security forces in Afghanistan, and British defense officials have complained that their worldwide force is overextended. They are looking to hand over command of the Kabul force to Turkey in April.

Many nations, however, seem to be waiting for the Americans and the British to settle their internal debates and reach a decision.

Senior American officials say several options are being considered to stabilize Afghanistan until an Afghan army is set up.

Those options include expanding the security force, a move that would require a new United Nations Security Council resolution. Another option is arranging for allied nations to deploy security troops in several Afghan cities that would not formally be part of the security force.

A third idea under discussion is to expand the role of United States Special Forces in Afghanistan so that their duties would include deterring conflict among rival warlords and not just hunting for Qaeda or Taliban troops. This could be done by channeling American money to warlords who cooperate, or in extreme cases calling in airstrikes.

A fourth idea is to station international advisers or observers in Afghan cities to encourage a peaceful resolution of local conflicts, no small task in a nation rife with weapons and people who are accustomed to using them.

The Bush administration might even opt for a combination of these measures. Administration officials met at the White House today but did not settle the dispute over whether Washington should support an expanded security force.

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