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U.S. Central Command Head Wants Army for Afghanistan

By Vernon Loeb

The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan Monday endorsed creation of an Afghan national army to deal with the country’s “murky and troublesome” security situation and said U.S. commanders oppose expansion of the international peacekeeping force.

“We’re sure that the right thing to do is to have an Afghan national army,” said Gen. Tommy R. Franks, who heads the Central Command. “I don’t think any of us are prepared to say that (the peacekeeping force) should be expanded right now.”

Franks’s remarks came one day after Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan, told reporters in Kabul that the United States is planning to step up its security role, possibly by seeking expansion of the 4,500-member multinational peacekeeping force, which is currently led by Britain.

Briefing reporters from Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Franks’ preference for assisting in the development of Afghan forces over expanding the role of peacekeepers echoed the position of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other senior Pentagon officials.

In that stance, they have differed with State Department officials, who have indicated that they believe it will probably be necessary to expand the peacekeeping force and broaden its area of operations from Kabul, the Afghan capital, to other parts of the country while an Afghan military force is trained.

Franks made it clear that he and his subordinates commanding about 4,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan “want to do something that will gain us this stability out in the outlying regions.”

But their primary focus is on helping the Afghans develop a force of their own, Franks said, noting that Army Maj. Gen. Charles C. Campbell, the U.S. Central Command’s chief of staff, had just returned from a mission to Kabul to assess the needs of an Afghan force.

“What we want to do is get ourselves set up with an Afghan national army that is able to serve the country of Afghanistan through time with border security ... police functions and the like,” Franks said. He added that such a force should probably include troops from multiple ethnic groups and tribes that now control various regions of the country.

But much remains to be decided. “The precision of exactly how that will be accomplished is what I think we’re all thinking about,” Franks said. “What we will do is we’ll take the results of this work done by General Campbell and his team, and then we’ll carry recommendations to the secretary of defense, who will then carry recommendations to our president.”

Franks also said no disciplinary action would be taken against any of the U.S. Special Forces troops or their commanders involved in a Jan. 24 U.S. raid on the village of Hazar Qadam north of Kandahar in which at least 16 Afghan fighters loyal to the interim government were killed.