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More Violence Expected as Next Afghan Election Approaches

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 22, 2005 – More violence by Taliban extremists is expected when Afghan voters go to the polls Sept. 18 to elect a national assembly and provincial councils, Defense Department officials said today.

During testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on progress in the country, Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, said he anticipates that "elements of the Taliban, the hardcore, will continue to fight."

"We have to be realistic and expect another attempt by the Taliban to disrupt the coming elections," he said. "There will be a spike in violence; we see some signs of it already."

Added Army Lt. Gen. Walter Sharp, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, who also testified today, "As the election approaches, al Qaeda and Taliban will attempt to increase the level and frequency of their attacks.

"We have seen a recent increase in violence as the winter receded," the general told committee members. "The enemy continues to wage a war of attrition with the hope that the international community will grow weary and eventually leave Afghanistan."

However, the general added, "We will not allow them to succeed."

Rodman said moderates in Afghanistan are "winning their battle, and the extremists are isolated."

"We can hope that if we defeat them again politically in this election process that we will see again a further strengthening of the moderate forces and a further weakening of the extremists," he added.

He said the Afghan government, under President Hamid Karzai, has tried to reach out to Taliban members in an attempt to get them to join their countrymen in the political process.

"There are many Taliban or supporters who are deciding maybe they should join the government, join their own countrymen," he said.

In the meantime, Sharp said, coalition troops and Afghan security forces have begun conducting combined offensive operations to "weaken and destroy the insurgents and shape the security environment," leading up to the elections.

There are more than 19,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, along with 10,000 coalition forces from 40 nations.

Also helping the security situation are the more than 65,000 new security forces that have been trained by U.S. Army troops, in addition to the Afghan National Army that now numbers more than 24,000 combat troops -- with a goal of 70,000 troops trained by 2007, he said.

In addition, Sharp told the committee, major strides have been made in disarming militia groups and seizing government control of heavy weapons.

Rodman reminded the committee that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is both political and military.

"Even while the Afghans and coalition are hunting down the remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban, even while we are intensifying our training of the Afghans in the security dimension, the most important contest is the building of political institutions, helping the Afghans build their institutions to fill the vacuum left by the defeat of the old regime."

He said the United States has a long-term commitment to ensure Afghanistan will "not again be a safe-haven for terrorists." The main goal for the country is "self-reliance," he said.

"It's not our business to be involved in something in perpetuity," he explained. "The goal is to help the Afghans get on their own feet. That is what they are doing, and that is what we are helping them do."

Rodman said that despite "serious issues" that remain in the country, "things are going in the right direction."

"If we stick to our commitment we will see a payoff," he said.

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