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New Afghan Ambassador to Help Country 'Stand On Its Own Feet'

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

WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2003 – "Success in Afghanistan is the only option," Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters during a briefing Nov. 19 at the State Department's Foreign Press Center.

Now, Khalilzad, who was confirmed by the Senate Nov. 17 as the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, is set to help lead the way to that success. Prior to confirmation, he was the special presidential envoy for that country.

He told reporters that he will be returning Nov. 25 to the country where he was born with what he called a "clear mission" from President Bush: to help the country "stand on its own feet."

"We have seen what failure in Afghanistan can produce," Khalilzad said. "Under the Taliban, Afghanistan was the playground of international terrorists, al Qaeda, that plotted and planned the dastardly attack that took place in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

He said he was "going to go to build on the successes that we have already had in Afghanistan. There's been a lot that has been accomplished as a result of efforts by Afghans, as a result of efforts by our coalition partners and other international players who are assisting in the reconstruction of Afghanistan."

Helping the country will mean working with the Afghan government and with international partners in the country to accelerate the reconstruction of the country and its economic infrastructure. Of the $87 billion supplemental bill signed by the president Nov. 6, $11 billion will go for reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan.

Other tasks at hand, he said, include improving security and assisting in the movement toward building a democratic government in Afghanistan. "We want an Afghanistan that can work for the Afghans, can look after the security needs of the Afghan people, that can provide for a representative institution and increase economic well-being for the people of Afghanistan, who have suffered so much for so long," he explained.

"And I will do my very best with the increased resources that the Congress, and under the leadership of President Bushand with the team of Americans dedicated to help Afghanistan succeed."

Khalilzad noted that a draft constitution has been produced. "It's an Afghan product produced by an inclusive process and the upcoming loya jirga," he said. "I look forward to being in Afghanistan during the coming constitutional convention and look forward to a final document, a constitution."

However, areas that still need work are the country's economy and security. Khalilzad said progress must be made to build the country's economic infrastructure in order to help raise the standard of living of the Afghan people. Afghanistan needs the support of outside investors and the country must create conditions that can attract "Afghan and external investors, the private sector, the free economy, which has got to be the answer to the economic problems," he explained.

In addition, he pointed to a need for laws and rules that can be "friendly" to economic progress, and that government institutions in Afghanistan need to be responsive to the needs for economic progress to take place.

Khalilzad also made clear to reporters that security is still the greatest challenge to the country's stabilization and its efforts to establish a new government. He said the country must contend with drug traffickers, common criminals and local leaders who "act like warlords." And still, there is the Taliban, al Qaeda and other extremists like Gulbuddin Hekmatyar that continue in their attempts to disrupt stability, he noted.

According to media reports, Hekmatyar, a former Afghan premier, has been labeled a war criminal by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Hekmatyar has also urged the Taliban to continue to fight the United States, offering rewards to those who kill U.S. service members.

He also said he wants to work with neighboring Pakistan on that country's "use as a sanctuary by the Taliban who come across Afghanistan to to attack our forces, to attack coalition forces, to attack Afghan forces, to attack people who are trying to build roads, build clinics, build schools, demine and we will work energetically on this issue."

To address questions about the Afghanistan's security, Khalilzad said the "ultimate answer" lies in the country's ability to train a national army and police force, as well as the establishment of fair law and judicial reforms.

The ambassador said 5,000 Afghan National Army troops have been trained as well as 1,000 policemen. "And in the course of next year, as part of the acceleration strategy, we'll do more," he explained. He estimates the rate of training for the army will be up to 10,000 soldiers per year by June 2004 and plans call for training 20,000 policemen "in the course of the next year." And he added that "with Italians in the lead, we will assist in accelerating the judicial reform process in Afghanistan with regard to fair laws."

He said the country's goal with regard to security is to continue operations against the terrorists and extremists, and increase the number of provincial reconstruction teams already playing a positive role in parts of Afghanistan.

"We continue to work with President Karzai on dealing with those regional leaders that act like war lords," he said. He added that as the number of police increase, "they should deal with the criminal elements more."

Khalilzad also commented on the importance to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and Mullah Mohammad Omar. "Success in Afghanistan is the most important, and certainly getting Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden is important. He said he believes "one way or the other it will happen."

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