Pentagon Challenge: Build an Afghan Army ; US Counterterror Forces Are Set to Train Troops in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Philippines

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Six months after US missiles started striking Kabul, the Pentagon is trying to build a new, unified Afghan national army as a crucial component of its "end game" in Afghanistan.

Determined to prevent US troops from becoming bogged down in a peacekeeping role (as in Bosnia), yet also rejecting a replay of the abrupt and destabilizing US disengagement from Afghanistan in the late 1980s, Pentagon officials see an Afghan army as essential to the long-term aim of securing the country from terrorist groups.

An Afghan military, a border patrol, and a police force will ultimately take over the US role, providing "a reasonably stable environment so that the Taliban and Al Qaeda [don't] come back in and seize control or start training terrorists again, or doing things that we went in to stop them from doing," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Monday.

The Pentagon plans to dispatch 150 special forces troops this month to begin training a professional Afghan military force that would bolster the government against both civil strife and terrorist incursions. US-taught Afghan military officers could take over the training as early as the end of this year, Mr. Rumsfeld said.

"In the end, ultimately the Afghan people are going to have to provide for their own security," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The plan to deploy American troops not as fighters, but as counter-terrorism trainers, is emerging as a prime military strategy for destroying terrorist safe havens - not only in Afghanistan, but also, for example, in the Philippines, Georgia, and Yemen, US officials say.

"America will actively prepare other nations for the battles ahead," Rumsfeld said recently. "Our goal is to train and equip forces in selected countries that want to help combat terror in their areas."

Later this month, for example, 180 US military advisers will begin arriving in Georgia to train four battalions of the former Soviet republic's Army to fight suspected terrorists hiding in the Pankisi Gorge. In Yemen, more than 100 American troops will begin arriving this month to help train and equip Yemeni special forces to prevent what US officials say may be efforts by Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda terrorist network to regroup there. About 160 US special forces soldiers are also training and advising the Philippine Army in battling the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group on the southern Philippine island of Basilan.

The strategy of building proxy antiterror forces in trouble spots aims to insure that US forces aren't stretched too thin, while also minimizing what US officials say are local sensitivities over an American military presence.

However, the effort takes time and money, and it has drawbacks - including concern that proxy forces are unlikely to replicate US goals and capabilities.

Starting from scratch

Nowhere are the challenges of this strategy more pronounced than in Afghanistan, where the US and coalition allies are starting from scratch to cobble together a cohesive army, a border patrol, and a police force, experts say. …


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