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'Ignorant, Repressive' Taliban Trashed Afghanistan, DoD Official Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2003 – Life is improving in today's Afghanistan, a nation recovering from widespread damage caused by the militants who ran it for five years, a senior DoD official said here Jan. 28.

Just over a year ago Afghanistan "was ruled by the Taliban, which has to be one of the most ignorant, repressive and ineffective governments ever to have ruled on earth," Joseph Collins, deputy undersecretary of defense for stability operations, remarked in a briefing to business and community leaders at the Pentagon.

The Taliban are militant Muslim fundamentalists who ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until December 2001, when U.S., Afghan and other coalition forces ejected them from the capital city of Kabul -- and from power. The Taliban are allies of terrorist Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile accused of masterminding the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

After the Taliban departed, "the U.S. and its partners faced an exhausted nation on the brink of a humanitarian disaster," Collins said. Afghan society had reached a "bottom-of-the-barrel" condition, he noted, because of the inept, brutal Taliban government, which routinely practiced public executions and whipped women for not being in "proper garb."

In fact, Taliban rule in Afghanistan is marked by a horrific lack of consideration for human rights and basic community services. Collins noted that in 1996, the year the Taliban took over, Afghanistan ranked 169 out of 174 countries rated on the United Nations' index of human development. Under Taliban rule and the experience of a four-year drought, he said, the country fell off the scale.

Today, after 23 years of warfare, Afghanistan enjoys relative peace, Collins remarked. The country now has a leadership that was democratically chosen by a national assembly, the Loya Jirga, and that government is developing its powers under the leadership of President Hamid Karzai, he pointed out.

Afghanistan's laws and economic system, he said, are being modernized to provide a free-trade, capitalist economy.

"Afghanistan today has defined the master plan for its own reconstruction, and that's great progress in one year," Collins declared, noting that more than 65 nations -- led by the United States, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the European Union -- have pledged $6.5 billion for Afghan reconstruction.

During 2002-2003 the United States will spend nearly $1 billion for economic issues in Afghanistan, he said, not counting a few hundred million dollars going toward security reconstruction. The United Nations, he noted, is also heavily involved in Afghan reconstruction efforts.

Collins said the lead American agency for Afghan reconstruction isn't DoD, but the U.S. Agency for International Development. In one year in Afghanistan, he said, that agency has refurbished more than 600 schools and provided 10 million textbooks, 7,000 metric tons of seed, and more than $150 million for refugees.

U.S. military civil affairs experts in Afghanistan, he added, have accounted for another 127 schools, 400 wells, 26 medical clinics, as well as refurbishing a national veterinary center and a teachers college.

Subcontracts for such work have provided employment for 40,000 to 50,000 Afghans, Collins said.

He said a top Afghan projects for 2003 is constructing a set of five maternity care centers. This project is highly important, he explained, because 25 percent of all Afghan children don't reach their fifth birthday.

A lot of "heavy lifting" for Afghan reconstruction is also being done by 260 nongovernmental organizations, he pointed out.

Security in Afghanistan is also "coming along pretty well," Collins said, although he noted that, as he was speaking, U.S. forces were battling terrorist forces near Spin Boldak, southeast of Kandahar. That area, he explained, contains "a rat's nest of terrorists."

Yet, security must be much better these days, Collins noted, because 2 million refugees "voted with their feet" and have returned home to Afghanistan.

U.S. and coalition forces, including the International Security Assistance Force, still patrol Afghanistan. But the Afghans are making good progress in providing their own security, Collins said, adding the newly formed, multiethnic Afghan national army now boasts six battalions. The army's first battalion completed training just seven months ago.

Parts of that Afghan force have already been deployed in combat, he added.

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