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SLUG: 2-293846 Pentagon Afghanistan ISAF (L-O)









INTRO: Pentagon officials say they do not object to expanding the international peacekeeping force for Afghanistan outside the capital, Kabul. But as V-O-A Defense Correspondent Alex Belida reports, officials are explaining why they do not view expansion as the quick and easy solution for shoring up stability in the country.

TEXT: When senior Pentagon officials are asked about expanding the international security force, known as I-SAF, they invariably say the main problem is getting other countries to offer up resources - troops, equipment and money - for such a move.

Here is how Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke put it at a recent news briefing:

/// CLARKE ACT ///

We are going as aggressively as we can to bring stability and security to that country. I-SAF is one piece of it. It is an important piece of it. We have no opposition to the expansion of I-SAF beyond Kabul. We need support and participation by others as well.

/// END ACT ///

But other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have for the first time indicated they have questions about the value of expanding the peace force.

They indicate levels of violence are generally subsiding or remaining steady in Afghanistan, except in the southeast of the country. Especially in the areas around Khost and Jalalabad, where U-S led coalition forces continue to seek out and clash with pro-Taleban and al-Qaida supporters.

They say this is hardly an area where it would be suitable to deploy peacekeepers, who, as one senior military officer puts it, would be become easy targets. Officials say it is clear coalition forces, by their presence, are provoking retaliatory attacks.

The other main center of violence remains Kabul, where I-SAF forces are already deployed. Just last week, suspected Taleban activists are blamed for setting off two bombs in the city. One small to attract a crowd, then a much larger device intended to kill and maim. More than two-dozen Afghan civilians were killed and scores of others injured.

Pentagon officials say it is their assessment that elements of the ousted Taleban regime are trying to unsettle Afghanistan's interim government, which is why they believe there is a focus on the capital.

All-in-all, defense officials believe that for the moment, moving I-SAF forces into the provinces will bring few benefits. (SIGNED)


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