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U.S. Focusing Afghan Reconstruction Efforts

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2002 – U.S. State Department officials are pleased with the progress being made in Afghanistan, but said more must be done to accelerate these positive changes and make them permanent.

At a special State Department briefing April 11, Ambassador James F. Dobbins, the coordinator for Afghanistan, said reconstruction has begun in the country that has been decimated by more than 20 years of war. Much has been accomplished in the four months since Afghan factions met in Bonn, Germany, to set up the interim government.

The International Security Assistance Force in Kabul is giving the Afghan government time to consolidate its control. Dobbins said Hamid Karzai's interim government, which includes representatives from almost all Afghan ethnic groups, is starting to take hold. The government has a budget and foreign aid is making its way to the stricken country.

"Payrolls are being met, Dobbins said. "Police and other Afghan officials are being paid. Schools are opened."

The U.S. military is training members of a new Afghan National Army, and all signs point toward the country being able to set up the follow-on government on schedule in June.

Dobbins and other U.S. officials, however, are not looking at the situation through rose-colored glasses. "The question, of course, is how long this can continue, and whether it will continue," he said.

The Taliban and Al Qaeda still threaten stability in the country. He pointed to a recent car bomb aimed at the Afghan defense minister as an example of the dangers facing Karzai's regime. "There is also the threat of ethnic and regional tensions," Dobbins said.

"The United States and the coalition will certainly help the Afghans deal with the first threat that is, the threat from the Taliban and Al Qaeda and will continue to prosecute the war against terrorism," he said. "We will also use our influence to help the Afghans deal with the second threat, that is to tamp down and discourage dissident centrifugal forces in the country."

Dobbins said it is his impression that the diverse populations are getting along better and that the "dominant sentiment within the country is for consolidation, not fragmentation."

While political gains are important for the long-term security of the country, humanitarian concerns are not being ignored. Andrew Natsios, the administrator for U.S. Agency for International Development, said there are four objectives in the reconstruction program.

The first is to "restore food security." U.S. officials are working with programs to get agriculture up and working again in the country. They are also working on ways to increase family income so those who are not farmers can buy food.

USAID is distributing 48,000 tons of an improved drought- resistant wheat seed, he said. A total of 7,000 tons have already been distributed. When the program is finished, the seed will grow 772,000 metric tons of food, which is a third of the food requirements of the country.

Getting schools up and running is the second focus of U.S. efforts. Natsios said this is not just because of educational purposes but "because we want the kids off the streets." He said teenagers are more likely to be recruited into militias if they are not in school. "They also are much likelier to get blown up with land mines and that sort of problem," he said. The more the Afghan children are in school, "the less likely they are to be exposed to dangers."

Natsios said the third objective is to stabilize the country by integrating militia members back into civilian society. He said this is done "through job creation and anti-narcotics and alternate development program, and infrastructure repair."

Finally, the United States is working to strengthen the managerial and technical capacity of the interim authority in key institutions within Afghan society.

Dobbins and Natsios stressed the United States is working with other nations and non-governmental organizations to address reconstruction in Afghanistan.

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