The Obama administration offered cautious support for the Afghan government's new outreach effort to the Taliban, expressing hope that lower level militants would reconcile with Kabul even if senior leaders continued fighting. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, at the start of an official visit to India, told reporters that the U.S. welcomed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's new efforts to persuade Taliban militants to lay down their weapons in exchange for jobs, education and security guarantees for themselves and their families. Mr. Gates said that he believed such reconciliation efforts would ultimately be "critical" to ending the long and increasingly bloody Afghan war.
But the defense chief cautioned that top Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar would be unlikely to participate in peace talks with the Afghan central government unless the U.S. and its allies reclaimed the battlefield momentum in Afghanistan. "I'd be very surprised to see a reconciliation with Mullah Omar," Mr. Gates told reporters during the flight here. "It's our view that until the Taliban leadership sees a change in the momentum and begins to see that they are not going to win, the likelihood of reconciliation at senior levels is not terribly great." The comments came just two days after the Karzai government said it was finalizing a major new initiative aimed at convincing large numbers of Taliban fighters to renounce violence and agree to work with - or at least tolerate - the Afghan central government...
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U.S. Aid Workers Find Few Trained Afghan Partners - Keith B. Richburg. Washington Post.
Alongside the thousands of additional U.S. troops, civilian aid workers are surging into Afghanistan to help refurbish schools, open rural health clinics, build irrigation systems, vaccinate livestock and provide fertilizer to farmers. But like their military counterparts, the civilian technicians are finding the lack of trained Afghan partners their most difficult challenge. The problem is particularly acute in the remote rural areas, where the Afghan government's presence is virtually nonexistent. "We're trying to create a centralized government where there's no history of it," said Lindy Cameron, the British head of the multinational provincial reconstruction team in Helmand. "The biggest challenge is the capacity of the Afghan government."
The point was illustrated during a recent day trip to Helmand by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who was in Afghanistan to see how USDA expertise and technical assistance could help farmers boost production in the country's leading agricultural province. Vilsack learned how U.S. aid and agricultural officials had vaccinated more than a million animals, provided seed and fertilizer to 10,000 farmers and distributed thousands of tons of feed for livestock. But when he traveled to Nawa, bringing along Helmand's governor and the agriculture minister from Kabul, he also came face to face with the Afghan government's limitations. Only two Agriculture Ministry officials were working here, and neither lived in the district. They had no office, no equipment, no cellphone - not even a bicycle...
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New Wave of Warlords Bedevils U.S. - Matthew Rosenberg, Wall Street Journal.
In his teen years, Sirajuddin Haqqani was known among friends as a dandy. He cared more about the look of his thick black hair than the battles his father, a mujahideen warlord in the 1980s, was waging with Russia for control of Afghanistan. The younger Mr. Haqqani is still a stylish sort, say those who know him. But now, approaching middle age and ensconced as the battlefield leader of his father's militant army, he has become ruthless in his own pursuit of an Afghanistan free from foreign influence. This time the enemy is the U.S. and its allies.
From outposts along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, his Haqqani network is waging a campaign that has made the Afghan insurgency deadlier. He has widened the use of suicide attacks, which became a Taliban mainstay only in the past few years. U.S. officials believe his forces carried out the dramatic Monday gun, grenade and suicide-bomb attack in Kabul on Afghan government ministries and a luxury hotel. The assault claimed five victims plus seven attackers. Mr. Haqqani also aided the Dec. 30 attack by an al Qaeda operative that killed seven Central Intelligence Agency agents and contractors at a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan, say militant commanders. And he orchestrated last year's assault on a United Nations guesthouse that killed five U.N. staffers, along with other attacks in the capital...
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