US concerned international community may abandon Afghanistan
by P. Parameswaran
Thu Jan 31, 6:35 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States expressed concern Thursday that the international community could abandon Afghanistan, cautioning that success in the insurgency-wracked nation was “not assured.”
“The greatest threat to Afghanistan’s future is abandonment by the international community,” Richard Boucher, the State Department’s pointman for Afghanistan, told a Senate hearing on the turmoil in Afghanistan.
He said the mission in Afghanistan needed more troops and equipment, such as helicopters, and pointed out that “too few of our allies have combat troops fighting the insurgents especially in the south.”
Southern Afghanistan has seen the worst violence since the Taliban were ousted in the US-led invasion in 2001, after the September 11 terror attacks masterminded by Al-Qaeda.
“Success is possible but not assured,” Boucher said as he came under intense questioning from senators. “Therefore, the international community needs to continue and expand its efforts.”
“We expect more from our NATO allies,” he said, amid lingering concerns over the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s commitment to providing more troops to fight a resurgent Taliban militia, whose control of the sparsely populated parts of Afghanistan was increasing.
There are about 40,000 NATO and 20,000 US-led coalition force soldiers in Afghanistan at present.
NATO commanders say they need some 7,500 extra troops to carry out their mission.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has sent an “unusually stern” letter to Germany’s defense minister asking the country to send more troops to southern Afghanistan, a German newspaper reported Thursday.
According to Suddeutsche Zeitung, the undated letter was sent a week and half ago directly to Franz Josef, demanding more combat troops, helicopters and parachutists.
Josef in turn wasted no time in responding with a similarly “direct and stern” letter, the paper said, without quoting the letters directly, ahead of full publication on Friday.
Gates also discussed military deployment with French counterpart Herve Morin in Washington, saying afterward that the talks included “participation of the allies and the need for a comprehensive strategy.” He did not elaborate
Morin said a comprehensive solution needed to combine “political, economic” factors, including providing alternate crops to Afghans relying on opium.
France has about 1,600 troops serving in Afghanistan.
Sources close to Morin said France could dispatch more instructors for Afghan security forces or redeploy French special forces.
At the hearing Thursday, Republican Senator Richard Lugar expressed dismay at the “troubling shortfall” of political commitment among NATO members that was hampering the ongoing operations in Afghanistan.
“The time when NATO could limit its missions to the defense of continental Europe is far in the past. With the end of the Cold War, the gravest threats to Europe and North America originate from other regions in the world,” he said.
For the second day running, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper warned, during talks with British counterpart Gordon Brown Thursday, that Ottawa would pull its 2,500 soldiers out of Afghanistan if it did not get reinforcements from other countries, Harper’s office said.
A day earlier, he raised similar concerns with US President George W. Bush.
As the Taliban score victories in the battlefield and with concerns mounting over weak governance, widespread corruption, flourishing narcotics trade and unemployment in Afghanistan, experts warn it could become a failed state.
British aid agency Oxfam raised the prospect of a humanitarian catastrophe there unless Western countries made a “major change of direction” in strategy.
Washington will deploy an additional 3,200 marines this spring — 2,200 will be deployed to the NATO’s southern regional command while the remaining 1,000 marines will train with Afghan forces, Boucher said.
“This is welcome news — but does anyone truly believe it be enough to turn the tide,” asked Democratic Senator Joseph Biden, who heads the Senate foreign relations panel, which held the hearing.
“If we should be surging forces anywhere, it’s in Afghanistan, not Iraq,” he said referring to a stepped-up US military strength in Iraq last year which appeared to be bringing the war in Iraq under control.