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[infowar.de] WP, 2.10.02: New U.S. strategy in Afghanistan: winning hearts and minds
New U.S. strategy in Afghanistan: winning hearts and minds
The Washington Post
Wednesday, October 2, 2002
KABUL The U.S. military campaign against Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants
is undergoing a subtle but important shift, relying less on air and
ground assaults and more on digging wells, school construction and
"stability operations," according to American officials and Western
The change is most visible in the realm of "civil-military operations,"
the army's term for humanitarian projects aimed at winning friends in
potentially hostile terrain. Such teams operate in 11 villages and
cities, a number that is slated to grow to 15, while the number of
civil-military affairs specialists - most of them reservists - will rise
from 150 last month to 350 by early November, U.S. officers say.
The largely unheralded changes follow complaints by Afghan government
officials, aid workers, allied diplomats, CIA personnel and some members
of the U.S. special forces that heavy-handed U.S. military tactics and
civilian casualties have alienated some Afghans who might otherwise be
recruited to the anti-terrorist cause.
U.S. combat troops continue to comb the mountains in pursuit of the goal
set by President George W. Bush a year ago - to kill or capture Osama
bin Laden and his lieutenants in the Qaeda organization. More than 200
soldiers from the 82d Airborne Division rolled into southeastern
villages Sunday, seizing weapons and searching homes of Al Qaeda
At the same time, U.S. military commanders say their soldiers also are
adopting the new, softer approaches aimed at avoiding unnecessary
friction, such as using female military police officers to search Afghan
women for weapons and explosives.
"Because the enemy is either unable or has not chosen to engage us, we
can use a softer approach, and we will always use that, given the
option," Major General John Vines, commander of conventional U.S. forces
in Afghanistan, said in an interview Saturday. "Ideally, we would never
have an American or other coalition soldier raise a weapon in anger at
The emphasis on humanitarian aid and reconstruction dovetails with a
similar focus by Bush administration figures, several of whom have
traveled here in recent days for discussions with Afghan officials on
such topics as rebuilding the army, road construction and the unveiling
of a new currency. Douglas Feith, the Defense Department's
undersecretary for policy, said Sunday that the 8,000-member U.S.
military presence would soon be reconfigured to place more emphasis on
peacekeeping duties that the Pentagon has resisted until now.
Feith also said that the administration would be "perfectly delighted"
if the allies expanded the size and range of the international
peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, which is made up of European and
Turkish troops and currently patrols only the capital.
Despite such adjustments, and the decreasing frequency of hostile
encounters over the last three months, U.S. commanders say that their
forces remain focused on capturing or killing Taliban and Al Qaeda
fighters now thought to be moving back and forth across the mountainous
border that separates Pakistan and southeastern Afghanistan.
>From their forward bases in Khost, Kandahar and several other locations,
troops from the 82nd Airborne Division - typically paired with small
special forces units - are continuing to conduct patrols, seize weapons
caches, call in limited air strikes and round up Afghans who might be
involved in terrorism or have information on those who are, U.S.
Afghans taken into custody during such sweeps are being flown by
helicopter to the Bagram air base, the U.S.-$ led coalition's main
headquarters near here, at the rate of about 10 per week, according to
Colonel Roger King, the coalition's chief spokesman. Most are ultimately
sent home to their villages, although a small number are flown to the
U.S. interrogation center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
U.S. commanders, Western diplomats and officials in the government of
President Hamid Karzai are concerned about a potential alliance among
remnants of the Taliban and Al Qaeda and guerrillas led by Gulbuddin
Hekmatyar. Intelligence indicates that Hekmatyar, formerly based in
Iran, is now in the southeastern border area, seeking support among
Pashtuns with scant affection for the United States or Karzai.
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