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U.S. not an Invader in Afghanistan, Wolfowitz Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2002 – U.S. defense officials are aware that Afghan tribes historically put their differences aside to unite against invaders, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said April 1 in Syracuse, N.Y.

"In our whole Afghan operation, we have been very mindful of the history of the British in Afghanistan in the 19th century and the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 20th century," he remarked to senior officers and civilians attending the National Security Studies Management Program at Syracuse University.

The Afghan populace considered the British and Russians to be invaders and put up fierce resistance until the foreigners gave up and left. Wolfowitz noted it's important the Afghan people realize that American forces are in their country only temporarily, to fight terrorists who attacked the United States.

"We have tried to minimize our footprint and emphasize that we are not there to stay if we can help it," Wolfowitz said.

About 7,000 American troops, hardly the stuff of an invasion force, are now in Afghanistan, DoD officials noted. Wolfowitz remarked more U.S. troops deployed to Salt Lake City, Utah, for the Winter Olympics than were in Afghanistan.

He said DoD needs to keep an eye on troop levels and keep them under control, so America doesn't become the Afghans' latest "alien force," he said.

Humanitarian operations are a key to this war, Wolfowitz pointed out. U.S. C-17 aircraft have dropped 2.5 million daily ration packs to needy Afghans since last October and helped to prevent a countrywide famine, he noted.

"It was a famine that was imposed by the Taliban, and very deliberately," he emphasized, adding that successful U.S. and coalition military operations in Afghanistan also helped to "open routes for humanitarian aid" by world nongovernment relief agencies.

Additionally, U.S. strategy in Afghanistan "has been based on leveraging the weaknesses of our enemy," Wolfowitz noted.

"In the case of the Taliban, their weakness was that they ruled by terror and they were hated accordingly" by most of the Afghan population, he explained. The fall of the Taliban, he noted, proved to the Afghan people that U.S. troops were in the country to help, not conquer.

"It was our victory on the ground in Afghanistan that changed this war from being seen (by the Afghans) as an attack on Afghanistan to being an attack on the Taliban," Wolfowitz explained. "Once the Taliban were gone and women were taking off their burkhas and people were finally able to go to schools they couldn't go to before, people realized just who it was we had been fighting and what we were fighting for."

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