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Afghanistan: Karzai Asks U.S.-Led Coalition To Change Strategy Against Terrorism

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called upon the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan to change its strategy in the battle against terrorism. Karzai says the government in Kabul should have authority over sensitive operations by coalition forces -- such as searching Afghan homes for suspected militants. Karzai also questioned whether coalition airstrikes are still an effective way to battle Islamist militants. He says what Afghanistan needs in the aftermath of parliamentary elections is a strong political approach to fight terrorism. RFE/RL correspondents Golnaz Esfandiari and Ron Synovitz report.

Kabul, 21 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Karzai made his call for changes in the U.S.-led coalition antiterror strategy yesterday (20 September) in Kabul.

“On the change of strategy, I believe the progress in Afghanistan towards stability and peace, and the participation of the Afghan people, has taken us many, many steps forward," Karzai said. "The nature of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has changed now. Therefore, we do not think that there is a serious terrorist challenge emanating from Afghanistan. Rather, we believe that we should now concentrate on where terrorists are trained, on their bases, on the supply to them, on the money coming to them. That’s what we need. A stronger political approach now.”

Karzai questioned the effectiveness of U.S.-led coalition air strikes to combat terrorism. He also says he wants coalition forces to get the approval of the Afghan government before searching the homes of Afghans for suspected militants.

“I don’t think there is a big need for military activity in Afghanistan anymore," Karzai said. "The use of air power is something that may not be very effective now because we have moved forward. And similarly, going into the Afghan homes -- searching Afghan homes without the authorization of the Afghan government -- is something that should stop now. No coalition forces should go into Afghan homes without the authorization of the Afghan government. The Afghan government is now capable of doing that. The Afghan society is now better organized [and] can handle things like that better than it could a year or two years ago. That’s what I mean by a change of strategy.”

One of Karzai’s top advisers, Dadfar Sepanta, told RFE/RL today (21 September) that Karzai doesn’t want an entirely new strategy against terrorism. Rather, Sepanta said, some parts of the current strategy should be changed.

“We support a strong military and political fight against terrorism and Al-Qaeda," Sepanta said. "In this regard, we are in full agreement with the United States. What the president [Karzai] said is that sometimes when the [antiterrorism] policy is applied in action, mistakes happen that cause dissatisfaction among Afghan people. This includes the searching of people’s houses at night. Or, in some cases, air strikes against civilian areas that happen because of misunderstandings or inaccurate information that is given to the U.S. military.”

Sepanta said some mistakes by U.S. troops engaged in combat operations during the past year have caused discontent among ordinary Afghans -- particularly those living in the south and east of the country.

“You know that in a traditional society like Afghanistan, when foreign men enter rooms at night where women are sleeping, it upsets people. We believe that those who work with us on a common cause -- that is, the fight against terrorism and restoring security -- the international community, the United States and Afghanistan, have common interest in this regard. It would be good if they would learn from our experiences and knowledge about Afghan society. They should not take measures that could cause dissatisfaction amongst people who are against terrorism. Or actions that make [the people] passive [toward terrorists],” Sepanta told RFE/RL.

During Karzai's May visit to Washington, he asked U.S. President George W. Bush to let the Afghan government have authority over house search operations in Afghanistan by coalition forces. Bush rejected the request.

In July, some 1,000 Afghan villagers staged an anti-U.S. demonstration outside the gates of Bagram Air Field north of Kabul to complain about what they said were the wrongful arrests of several Afghan civilians. Those arrests included a former local militia commander and a local Muslim cleric whom U.S. officials suspected of planning attacks against coalition forces.

Karzai says U.S. forces are still welcome in Afghanistan and that an expansion of NATO’s presence also would be welcomed by Kabul. He says Afghanistan still needs foreign help for reconstruction, institution building, and security operations -- despite the completion of the Bonn process, which set out a list of post-Taliban reforms.

But the Afghan president insists that NATO troops also should get Kabul’s approval before they search the homes of ordinary Afghans.

“Institutionally, we are still a very weak country," Karzai said. "And one of the problems that we have -- especially with regard to improving the administration -- is to train in a rapid way as many Afghans as we can. For that reason, we will be dependent on the international community for many years to come. The completion of the Bonn process should not be seen by the international community [as a sign] that Afghanistan is now on its own feet. No. We are not. That applies also to the [Afghan National] Army [and] to the police. The international community will need to stay with us for many years to come.”

Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, told RFE/RL that he is ready to meet with Karzai if the Afghan president wants to discuss a new strategy. Eikenberry noted that under the terms of the strategic partnership that Karzai and Bush signed in May, the coalition operates in close coordination with Kabul.

But Eikenberry said he does not think the threat of terrorism has been removed from Afghanistan. He said he expects more fighting in the weeks ahead with Taliban militants trying to stage a return to power. "Afghanistan and the international community cannot afford the luxury of resting on the significant accomplishments of this week," he said. "Much work remains ahead in the fields of security, governance, justice, and reconstruction."

Eikenberry said the U.S.-led coalition forces will stay on the offensive against Taliban fighters and other militants at least until the end of the coming winter.

(RFE/RL Afghan Service correspondent Freshta Jalalzai contributed to this report from Kabul.)

Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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