KABUL, Feb 25: A US special envoy has warned that warlords pose the most serious threat to stability in Afghanistan.
Speaking to reporters after several days of meetings with senior leaders, Zalmay Khalilzad said the existence of “multiple armies” in the countryside represented the biggest challenge to Afghanistan’s interim administration, installed on Dec 22.
“Clearly the major overall challenge is how to prevent a return to warlordism and conflict among major armies,” Khalilzad said.
“There are a number of ideas as to what can be done, but clearly the ultimate answer is the building of a national army.”
Meanwhile, the United States said on Sunday it would assist in the creation of an Afghan national army as the first units started their training on Monday in a key step towards national unity after a decade of civil conflict and warlordism.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, recently returned from the Afghan capital, said the interim administration led by Hamid Karzai was seeking “to create, as rapidly as possible, an Afghan national army,” which “could quite likely require American trainers in there for a period of time.”
“I think everybody’s very, very concerned that this chance that Afghanistan has to provide the services that the citizens of that country deserve after decades of upheaval and turmoil, that we all have to do what we can,” Myers told Fox News.
“They want whatever help we can provide to get them started, to get them going, but after that they want the responsibility,” he added.
While the United States acknowledges that rival warlords pose the most serious threat to stability in Afghanistan, it is up to the interim government to resolve such conflicts, not the United States, Myers said.
“I think that’s really something that the Afghan interim administration needs to work,” he said.
“I think the notion of an Afghan national army would be one of those functions of the government that could help stop those inter-warlord fights.”
The first batch of some 200 men, representing all Afghanistan’s disparate ethnic groups, Monday began learning how to be professional soldiers under the guidance of Western military advisors.
Another 400 men are due to join them this week to form the First Battalion of the Afghan National Guard, said a press officer from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) which is leading the training programme.
“This is the first unit and hopefully it will be the benchmark for the new Afghan national army,” said ISAF spokesman Jonathan Turner.
“This is the first time since 1979 that (Afghanistan) has attempted anything like this, so ... there are going to be some teething problems.”
Analysts believe it will take years to create an effective new army strong enough to disarm the warlords and establish the writ of the Kabul administration in the restive countryside where tribal strongmen still hold sway.
“If it takes six months or more than a year to create a single army, what do we do in the meantime to deter war among the warlords?” a senior US official said in The New York Times.
US special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, speaking here Sunday, urged haste in setting up a national army, to “prevent a return to warlordism and conflict among major armies.”
Khalilzad said the expansion of international forces was an option under consideration but in the long-term the only solution was for Afghans to take care of themselves.
“We do not want Afghanistan to become a kind of security welfare state, if you like, on the international community.”—AFP