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April 25, 2008 

Big advance in war on Afghanistan poppy
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom By Tom Coghlan in Helmand 25/04/2008
Opium production in Afghanistan is expected to fall significantly this year, with British and Afghan anti-drug efforts finally taking hold following record harvests.

India agrees to $5bn trans-Afghan pipeline
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 24 April 2008 16:21
Ministry announces gas deal between four neighbouring countries
INDIA has officially signed up to a $5.3 billion project to build a gas pipeline through Afghanistan, linking Turkmenistan, Pakistan and India.

Poll: government should reject make-up ban
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 24 April 2008
Quqnoos.com poll finds that almost two-thirds reject draft bans
ALMOST two thirds of people polled think a draft law calling for the ban of make-up on women and jewellery on men should be rejected by the government.

Battle of the belly buttons on Afghan television
Independent, UK By Jerome Starkey in Kabul Friday, 25 April 2008
Love affairs, foreign gods and ladies' belly-buttons are at the centre of a row threatening Afghanistan's free press.

Kabulis blame Karzai for rocketing food costs
www.quqnoos.com Written by Parvez Shamaal Thursday, 24 April 2008
MPs call for action after sharp price increases spark food riots
MEMBERS of Parliament, Kabulis and people living in many of the country’s provinces have lashed out at the government for failing to bring down rocketing food prices.

Cutting the tall poppies
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia April 25, 2008
Tough and costly decisions need to be made to ease the hardship of the Afghan people and end the humiliation of the narco-state's international allies, argues Amin Saikal.

Pakistan to allow wheat exports to Afghanistan
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 24 April 2008
Flour smugglers force government to allow Indian wheat imports
PAKISTAN has said it will allow Afghanistan to use its territory to import wheat from India two days after residents in Jalalabad rioted in protest at soaring food prices, a Pakistani paper reported today (Thursday).

US to heighten Afghan role?
The Christian Science Monitor By Gordon Lubold 04/24/2008
Pentagon weighs taking over NATO's combat mission in the south to better fight Taliban.
Washington - The Pentagon is considering whether it should push to change the NATO mission in volatile southern Afghanistan to give the US greater control in the fight against a growing Taliban threat.

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Big advance in war on Afghanistan poppy
Telegraph.co.uk, United Kingdom By Tom Coghlan in Helmand 25/04/2008

Opium production in Afghanistan is expected to fall significantly this year, with British and Afghan anti-drug efforts finally taking hold following record harvests.

Afghan officials said they expected that an increased number of the country's 34 provinces would be declared "opium poppy free".

More than 90 per cent of the heroin consumed in Britain originates in Afghanistan. Production in Helmand - its biggest heroin province and the front-line for British soldiers - is also expected to fall alongside successes against a major drug lord and smugglers.

General Khodaidad, Afghanistan's counter-narcotics minister, said: "This year the overall cultivation of poppy is down. Around 20 provinces in total will be declared drug free."

He added that the provinces of Nangahar and Badakhshan, which as recently as 2004 were behind only Helmand in production, would be poppy-free. Both are in the north and east of the country where government control is greater and the improvements have been the most significant.

The Afghan government considers any province with less than 2,500 acres of poppy to be "poppy-free".

Last year 250,000 acres of opium poppy were planted in Helmand, according to Western counter-narcotics experts. Slightly less have been planted this year, while 10,000 acres have been eradicated.

Alongside Afghan police missions, British special forces have recently begun targeting drug smugglers in Helmand.

Western officials said that they had destroyed part of the massive poppy crop belonging to a major drugs figure in the province who is also its former police chief.

"Around 20 per cent of the land of Abdul Rahman Jan was successfully eradicated," said one official.

Afghanistan's drug trade has soared since the invasion in 2001, giving rise to a $4 billion industry that accounts for about a third of the country's total economy.

Drug eradication efforts that were a shambles last year because police and government officials systematically took bribes to spare all but the most impoverished farmers appear to have been more successful this year.

The Telegraph spoke to two low-level drug smugglers in Helmand last month who claimed that Afghan eradication teams had been more resistant to bribery in 2008.

"In the past the eradication police came from Kabul and they all took bribes," said one 35-year-old man, talking under the alias of Ahmad Wali.

"This year, there were many different organisations involved and each one was afraid to take the bribes because of the others."

The two said that it was becoming hard for smaller smugglers to survive because only the powerful could afford to pay enough to avoid

prosecution. However, some analysts have said that the smugglers were deliberately suppressing production in key provinces until Western demand inflated prices.

A ban by the Taliban at the beginning of 2001 saw prices skyrocket, allowing smugglers to sell old opium, which can be stored for several years.

"People still have their stocks of opium and they need the price to go up," said one Afghan official in Nangahar.

"With the increase in Western military activity in this area it has been hard to move the drugs. Now the price is $75 a kilo, but in four months that could triple."

Western officials are united in their belief that the war on drugs in Afghanistan is likely to last 20 or more years.

They all expect poppy production, particularly in Nangahar province, will rise again next year, as steady worldwide increases in food and fuel prices puts added pressure on the poorest farmers to seek the most lucrative crop.

In the past 12 months, 820 people have been arrested for drug smuggling, including 17 Afghan soldiers and policemen, it was disclosed yesterday

One army colonel was sentenced to 10 years after he was caught with 100 lb of opium in a military vehicle.
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India agrees to $5bn trans-Afghan pipeline
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 24 April 2008 16:21
Ministry announces gas deal between four neighbouring countries

INDIA has officially signed up to a $5.3 billion project to build a gas pipeline through Afghanistan, linking Turkmenistan, Pakistan and India.

A meeting held yesterday (Wednesday) by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) saw government officials from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India sign an agreement for the new 1600km pipeline, which will be completed in 2012.

The gas pipeline – ‘Afghan-Trans’ – will start from the Doulat Abad area in Turkmenistan, continue along the Herat-Kandahar highway to Quetta in Pakistan and end up in India.

The pipeline will be able to transport about 33 billion metres cubed of gas a year.

Afghanistan will take 5 million metres cubed of gas from the pipe every day during the first year of a contract that lasts for 30 years.

The country will take 14 million metres cubed in the fifth year.

The work of the project will be completed by a consortium comprised of oil companies from four countries.

Afghanistan will get $400 million in transit fees every year and thousands of people will be employed when the project starts. 
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Poll: government should reject make-up ban
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 24 April 2008
Quqnoos.com poll finds that almost two-thirds reject draft bans

ALMOST two thirds of people polled think a draft law calling for the ban of make-up on women and jewellery on men should be rejected by the government.

About 62% of voters who took part in the Quqnoos.com poll said the government should throw the draft law out.

As it turns out, Parliament have since discussed the law and rejected it.

However, last week’s poll revealed that 13% of voters said the government should ban make-up on women and jewellery on men, with a further 10% saying that only jewellery on men should be banned.

About 13% of people said they did not care what the government did.

The bans on jewellery and make-up were part of a whole host of draft measures drawn up by the commission for anti-social behaviour, which called for bans on everything from pigeon-flying to men and women talking together in the streets.

Have you say

To have your say in this week’s poll, go to the right of your screen and tick one of the boxes.

This week we ask: Should the government search for President Daoud's body?
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Battle of the belly buttons on Afghan television
Independent, UK By Jerome Starkey in Kabul Friday, 25 April 2008
Love affairs, foreign gods and ladies' belly-buttons are at the centre of a row threatening Afghanistan's free press.

Broadcasters are locked in a battle with the country's Information Minister, after two television stations ignored ultimatums to stop showing Indian soap operas.

The government is trying to ban Indian serials – must-see TV for millions of ordinary Afghans – on the grounds that they are un-Islamic, because they show couples courting, women cheating and too much female flesh. They also show characters worshipping Hindu gods.

Some Islamic clerics have threatened to blow up TV antennae if the shows are not pulled. But the country's most popular broadcaster, Tolo TV, has defied government threats to shut down the shows, and they have accused officials of attacking the media in a manner reminiscent of the Taliban, which used tanks to destroy TV sets.

The Ministry of Information and Culture has delivered three ultimatums ordering broadcasters to stop showing the programmes, but twice they have had to extend the deadlines after Tolo, which brought Afghanistan its own version of Pop Idol, and a smaller station, Afghan TV, refused to cave in to their demands.

The broadcasters now have until Tuesday to take the shows off the air. In its most recent statement, the ministry said: "Tolo and Afghan TV are informed for the last time to stop broadcasting certain serials as soon as possible. Otherwise, they will be referred to legal and judicial authorities."

"These serials have become an icon for free speech," said Tolo's director Jahid Mohseni. "This is a stand that we have to make."

He rejected claims that the government's opposition was based on protecting Islam. "It has got nothing to do with Islam," he added. "It is about using Islam as a dogma to attack people. The Taliban did pretty much the same thing."

Afghanistan's National Union of Journalists reacted yesterday by launching an advertising campaign to highlight what they described as government-sponsored "threats to democracy".

The union's president, Abdul Hamim Mobarez, said: "We are defending free speech and democracy in our country. There is nothing against our religion in these shows. We strongly believe these actions will endanger our democracy."

Broadcasters invariably blur female characters' shoulders, backs and mid-rifts whenever their saris are too revealing.

Tolo insists the ban is illegal under the country's constitution, which enshrines free speech, and they point to viewing figures of more than 11 million as proof the shows do not offend Afghan culture. They say freedom of speech is facing a "crisis".

The Minister of Information and Culture, Abdul Karim Khurram, named five soaps he wanted banned last week, after consulting the influential Ulemma Council of Islamic scholars. President Hamid Karzai has since sided with the mullahs declaring there are too many foreign shows.

At least two stations cancelled their Indian soaps.

More than a dozen stations have sprung up since 2001 following the overthrow of the Taliban.
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Kabulis blame Karzai for rocketing food costs
www.quqnoos.com Written by Parvez Shamaal Thursday, 24 April 2008
MPs call for action after sharp price increases spark food riots

MEMBERS of Parliament, Kabulis and people living in many of the country’s provinces have lashed out at the government for failing to bring down rocketing food prices.

MPs warned that the country was rapidly approaching an economic crisis and demanded the government prevent further price increases, which have seen the cost of a piece of bread double in Kabul over the last three days.

Some MPs accused the private sector, the government and Parliament of inefficiency and negligence.

The cost of a 100kg bag of floor in Kabul is Afg5000 and one piece of bread now costs Afg20 in some bakeries.

Our correspondent in Kabul visited the house of one of the city’s recently returned refugees. The children in the family suffer from malnutrition and can only afford to eat one piece of bread a day, he said.

One of Kabul’s residents said: “In a country where most people live in poverty, and don’t have the ability to buy food and where some people sell their children in order to survive, the government decorates the streets for the coming ceremony with large amounts of money.”

Another citizen said: “While people live in poverty, the government and Parliament care more about the ethnic and cultural issues such as MPs walking out of Parliament, the ban on Indian soaps which are not at all useful for the people.”

The government announced this week the creation of a special commission to combat the growing food problem, which sparked riots in Nangarhar two days ago.

The ministry of commerce has said it will buy grain from foreign countries as soon as possible, which it said would lower the cost of food. Although the president recently reserved $50 million to buy wheat from abroad, prices have continued to increase.

Another Kabul citizen said: “We hoped that, with this money, the food prices would decrease, but instead it increased.”

Wheat prices in Afghanistan have risen by an average of 60% over the last year, with some areas seeing a rise of up to 80%, according to the United Nations.

The deputy head of Afghanistan’s Chamber of Commerce, Azarakh Hafizi, said: “The government must make short-term and long-term plans in consultation with the private sector in order to eradicate famine and decrease food prices.”

He said the government should buy basic foods from abroad and increase domestic production of rice and wheat
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Cutting the tall poppies
Sydney Morning Herald, Australia April 25, 2008
Tough and costly decisions need to be made to ease the hardship of the Afghan people and end the humiliation of the narco-state's international allies, argues Amin Saikal.

The policy approach pursued by the United States and its allies towards transforming Afghanistan into a stable and secure state has provided the Taliban ample opportunity to reorganise and reinvent themselves.

The Taliban militia have now become a serious challenge, hampering the efforts to rebuild Afghanistan and preventing an early exit of foreign forces from the country. Several factors have proved critical.

First, the US and its allies have failed from the start to deploy enough forces to capitalise on their initial successes. The US originally deployed about 10,000 troops and supported the deployment of another 5000-strong force, made up of troops from its NATO allies, in the form of the International Assistance Security Force. This was against the better judgment of several seasoned scholars and Afghanistan observers, who recommended a force of at least 50,000 troops as necessary not only to secure Kabul but to safeguard other important cities.

The primary focus of the US forces was to hunt down al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders. For this purpose, Washington also armed and financed several existing local power holders and their militias, which operated independently of the Afghan Government, and over which the US could not ensure control in the medium to long term. In the meantime, the international security force was mandated only to provide security for Kabul and the Karzai Government.

These forces proved to be inadequate. It left the field wide open for many sub-national actors, including local chieftains, drug traffickers and powerful poppy growers to re-emerge on the Afghan scene. Most important, it provided a valuable opportunity for the Taliban and their Pakistani backers to re-establish themselves in the provinces along the Pakistani border. With the US forces spread thinly by the turn of 2004, the Taliban were in a position to enhance their military operations, preventing US forces from consolidating a hold, especially in the Taliban heartland in the provinces of Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan.

Afghanistan has continued to suffer from poor governance. From the start, the Karzai leadership and its international backers, especially the US, were seductively lured by the ideal of centralised power and authority within a strong presidential framework.

Despite warnings by informed scholars against adopting a strong presidential system of governance as totally inappropriate for a war-torn state with myriad social divisions, they failed to attend to the fact that such a system typically produces only one winner, and many disgruntled losers intent on challenging or undermining the position of the victor.

A presidential system can also result in the concentration of too much formal power in the hands of the winner, leading to personalised politics in which access to the president becomes a prize over which lesser politicians fight viciously.

The result has been the growing isolation of Hamid Karzai from the public, and construction of a dysfunctional and corrupt government. Senior governmental positions have been filled not on the basis of merit, but on family, tribal, ethnic and factional connections. Afghanistan does have a parliament which, although far from perfect, has nonetheless provided a venue for a range of voices to be heard. But the executive branch of the Government has seen no compelling reason to co-ordinate its functions with the legislative branch.

Given Afghanistan's historical experience as a weak state with a strong society, what the country has required is a more inclusive, parliamentary system of government and strong emphasis on legitimate local government structures to give ordinary Afghans a sense of connectedness to the political system. The political system has increasingly cracked under the weight of the burdens it is expected to carry. This has generated a massive political and administrative vacuum, which the Taliban and their supporters have skilfully exploited against the Karzai Government and its supporting foreign forces.

Meanwhile, the US and its allies have not made sufficient investment in Afghanistan's reconstruction. Washington initially shunned the idea of a Marshall Plan, arguing that there was no need for such a scheme because a small amount of money could go a long way in a country like Afghanistan. A report by the Agency Co-ordinating Body for Afghan Relief says that of the more than $20 billion promised by international donors between January 2002 and January 2008, $9 billion still has to be delivered. Of the amount distributed, 40 per cent was returned to the donor countries in consultancy fees and expatriate pay, with most of the remaining funds being spent on United Nations and non-governmental organisations and foreign contractors and subcontractors.

The report makes it clear that while the US military spends $100 million a day, the amount of aid spent by all donors combined has been just $7 million a day since 2001.

The result has been far less investment in the country's reconstruction per head of the population than has been the case with three concurrently disrupted states: Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor.

In addition, the US tied its intervention in Afghanistan from the start to the wider war on terrorism and the critical role that Pakistan could play on both of these fronts, with two important consequences. The first is that the US efforts have been focused on Afghanistan with the overriding goal of winning the war on terrorism, which in itself has grown as elusive as its targets. The second is that nuclear-armed Pakistan, the original source and sponsor of Muslim extremism, has been allowed to get away with making as little structural adjustment in its approach to Afghanistan as possible.

The military regime of Pervez Musharraf, which has only recently been subjected to a limited degree of civilian limitation, has heavily dwelt on its status as the US's closest partner in the war on terrorism and its elevation from 2005 as one of the US's main non-NATO allies to press for what it deems desirable in support of its interests rather than what the US wants. While being showered with considerable US economic and military assistance, amounting to more than $10 billion by 2007, it has not found it imperative to do whatever it takes to deny the Taliban sanctuaries and logistic support from Pakistan. If anything, its policies have contributed substantially to the growth of the Taliban in Pakistan's border areas with Afghanistan, undermining any efforts on the part of the US and NATO to enhance Pakistan-Afghanistan border security.

The Karzai Government and its international backers have failed to develop a culturally relevant national ideology of state building, capable of countering the effect of the Taliban's reliance on Islam as an ideology of resistance and salvation.

While Islam is enshrined as the religion of state in the new Afghan constitution, the Government has largely pursued a strategy of promoting secular politics and tolerating the kind of social and cultural practices that have left it vulnerable to the accusation of behaving at the behest of occupying powers.

The Taliban's puritanical deployment of Islam as an ideology of renewal and resistance has increasingly proved effective.

This, together with the Taliban's offer of religious rewards in the hereafter and higher pay than the average salary of $US50-70 a month paid by the Government, has led many disgruntled Afghans to become, if not active supporters, at least sympathetic to the Taliban.

As the Karzai Government has failed to consolidate itself as a reliable or trustworthy partner, the US and its allies have also remained divided in their approach and commitment, robbing them of the necessary capacity to forge a common strategy.

Whereas Washington has continued to pledge an open-ended commitment to Afghanistan as part of its war on terrorism strategy, most of its allies have treated their involvement in Afghanistan as a short-term measure and also as a way of avoiding participation in the Iraq fiasco.

While the US has publicly insisted on its determination to eliminate the Taliban and al-Qaeda leaderships, many of its European allies and the United Nations have increasingly wanted to focus on an approach that could enable them to disentangle themselves from Afghanistan as soon as possible.

NATO members continue to disagree over their approach, depth and length of involvement and the degree to which they co-ordinate with the Afghan Government and among themselves. They have remained dumbstruck not only over how to differentiate between "core" Taliban and "non-core" Taliban as well as between the "old" Taliban and the "new", but also on how to stem the tide of opium production, which made the country the largest producer in the world last year.

Afghanistan has become a narco-state, which means that even if the Taliban are eliminated, the country will still be in the grip of a narco-economy. Proceeds from opium, heroin and drug trafficking have become a main source not only for funding the operations of the Taliban and other private militias, but also enriching many government officials. The Afghan Government and outside actors have not devised a common approach to tackle the problem.

Even at the Bucharest summit of NATO and other countries on Afghanistan this month, the participants remained divided on how to deal with the drug problem. The call by the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, for a decisive approach to the drug issue produced little result.

All this has been extremely comforting to the Taliban leadership and their supporters. They have grown convinced that despite its public rhetoric, NATO will not and can not afford to endure the burdens of Afghanistan indefinitely.

The fact is that the Taliban are not the best trained, equipped and led force. The movement is largely made up of self-styled but poorly trained, fed and clothed jihadists, with no big power behind them. They have made a comeback to fill the vacuum created by the political and strategic failures of the Karzai Government and its foreign allies.

A more appropriate strategy for dealing successfully with the Taliban is to close the Afghan Government's and NATO's vulnerabilities and to delegitimise the religious extremism and non-religious causes on which the Taliban draw. Such a strategy must aim at creating an appropriate and effective system of governance, providing human security and accelerating the process of economic rebuilding from which most Afghans, not just a tiny minority, could benefit, adopting a national ideology of state building that is culturally relevant, pursuing a common approach to resolving the drug problem systematically but humanly, enhancing the security conditions along the border with Pakistan, and pressing Pakistan to abandon its ambitions towards Afghanistan.

These issues form the heart of the Afghan conflict, and require costly and, in some cases, painful policy actions. Should the Afghan Government and its allies fail to move in this direction, the conditions can only favour the Taliban's continued insurgency at the cost of more violence and hardship for the Afghan people and humiliation for the country's international allies.

Amin Saikal is professor of political science and director of the Australian National University's centre for Arab and Islamic studies (Middle East and Central Asia), and author of Modern Afghanistan: A History of Struggle and Survival).
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Pakistan to allow wheat exports to Afghanistan
Written by www.quqnoos.com Thursday, 24 April 2008
Flour smugglers force government to allow Indian wheat imports

PAKISTAN has said it will allow Afghanistan to use its territory to import wheat from India two days after residents in Jalalabad rioted in protest at soaring food prices, a Pakistani paper reported today (Thursday).

During a meeting with the Afghan foreign minister, Dr Rangin Dafar Spanta, Pakistani prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani agreed in principle to let Afghanistan import wheat through the Wagal border between India and Pakistan, the Dawn newspaper said.

Pakistan recently imposed a ban on wheat exports to Afghanistan, where food prices, including flour, have rocketed in recent months.

At the moment, the price of a 100 kg bag of flour in Kabul is Afg5000 and a piece of bread can cost up to Afg20, three times the cost of bread two months ago.

On Monday, residents in Jalalabad burned rickshaws and attacked flour trucks in protest at the Pakistani government’s ban on wheat exports to the country.

Pakistan’s food and agriculture minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, told the country’s Parliament yesterday that the move to allow Kabul to import wheat through Pakistan was prompted by the smuggling of about 1.7 million tons of wheat to neighbouring countries, especially Afghanistan.
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US to heighten Afghan role?
The Christian Science Monitor By Gordon Lubold 04/24/2008
Pentagon weighs taking over NATO's combat mission in the south to better fight Taliban.

Washington - The Pentagon is considering whether it should push to change the NATO mission in volatile southern Afghanistan to give the US greater control in the fight against a growing Taliban threat.

The move is one of many being assessed as fears rise that the collective effort of NATO forces there lacks coherence. The Taliban's comeback over the past two years has been marked by a spike in suicide bombings and other violence – at the same time that critics say the complex command structure governing NATO and US forces has stifled combat and reconstruction efforts.

American officials see a possible answer in modeling the southern region after the east, which falls under NATO but is led by a subordinate US command and viewed as relatively successful.

The issue is not a new one, but has been overshadowed by the need for more forces in Afghanistan. With new commitments by some allies in place, the focus now is on creating more workable relationships on the ground – without conjuring images of "American bullying," as one retired US officer puts it, among allies whose commitments already hang by a slender thread.

All discussion is in "incubation," says a Pentagon official with firsthand knowledge of the situation, and a decision is still some months away.

"This is the sausage being made," says the official, who like others quoted in this article asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the discussions.

Support for change comes from outside the military as well. "I think there is a strong rationale for making that command and control much more efficient," Seth Jones, a political scientist at the Rand Corp., told a House panel this month. "We have multiple US chains of command that go through European Command, Central Command, Special Operations Command," he said. "I think there are a range of options on the table about making that arrangement more efficient."

NATO took over what was a security-and-stabilization effort, but is now confronting a combat mission in some of the country's most dangerous provinces. The size of the 61,000-member force, about half of which is American, with the rest from 39 countries, remains a major challenge for commanders. Also of concern is their view that troops as well as provincial reconstruction teams can be more responsive to their countries' domestic concerns than to the commanders under whom they technically fall.

But a particularly thorny issue is the frequent rotations of commands. The southern sector rotates a new subordinate coalition command every nine months. The current Canadian commander, for example, will be replaced by a Dutch counterpart by the end of the year. The frequency of change allow the Taliban to exploit the seams of those transitions, critics say.

In contrast, the Americans cast the US-led eastern sector as successful, in part because of the longer tours – 12 to 15 months or more.

"You get American soldiers and their leaders who establish, maintain, and exploit relationships with the terrain, the indigenous people, and their leadership and their enemy to a fare-thee-well," says Gen. Dan McNeill, senior NATO commander based in Kabul.

"Each time you get a change in nationality in one of these commands, the Afghans as well as the international force have to make adjustments," says General McNeill, who believes the overall strategy in Afghanistan is working and that the larger command structure is succeeding. But he acknowledges that the frequency of rotations in the south is "probably not the most helpful."

Many others believe the overall command needs overhaul. "I have to believe that all my instincts and experience tells me that it ain't working well," says one senior American officer with intimate knowledge of the mission.

But requesting that the coalition forces in the south essentially expand on their commitment by extending their forces is not seen as a simple change.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, typically quick to address issues as they arise, has so far been reluctant to make changes, following the advice of the Pentagon's Joint Staff earlier this year. On Wednesday, Gates said there are always efforts under way to make sure the mission is as effective as possible, but didn't hint at a new approach anytime soon.

"There's been a lot of discussion in this building about whether we have the best possible command arrangements in Afghanistan," he said. "I've made no decisions."

Meanwhile, Afghanistan is as much a political mission as it is a combat and reconstruction one, say military commanders and analysts.

The coalition there is in many ways as important as the mission itself, and is a test of the overall NATO alliance, military commanders and analysts say

"The fact that we have problems with some allies is in no way an indication that we have problems with all the allies," says Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank in Washington. "We couldn't have done what we could without them."

Many coalition forces are watching the US closely to gauge the extent of its commitment to the Afghanistan mission. The nomination of Gen. David Petraeus, an expert in counterinsurgency and now the top commander in Iraq, to lead US Central Command could mean a new emphasis on what Afghanistan needs.

Gates has indicated he will send more US forces to Afghanistan some time in 2009, something that depends partly on how many troops are brought home from Iraq. But there is discussion of sending a division headquarters and or an additional brigade there.

At the same time, discussion is ongoing about other options for improving the effectiveness of the command structure, in addition to the US assuming more responsibility in the south. Some Pentagon officials believe that the head of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan, a four-star general, should be "dual-hatted." In addition to reporting to the NATO leadership in Brussels, he should also have a direct link to Washington.

Supporters of this plan believe Washington's direct input would help to bring more unity of effort to the mission. Another, perhaps more politically palatable, option is to add a new American three-star general to oversee all American forces. That commander would serve as a deputy to the NATO commander but would also answer directly to Washington.

David Barno, who retired from the Army after serving as the senior NATO commander in Afghanistan, testified before the same House panel that the loss of the senior US commander who had directly answered to Washington hurts the mission. Now, the senior NATO commander only answers directly to NATO.

"I think [it is] a disturbing trend again, given the importance of this mission," he said.

Any of these changes would require approval of the NATO alliance.

Other senior military veterans would like to see "tactical areas of responsibility" drawn that would allow the various forces to "own their own battle space." This would allow them to operate as independently as possible from one another unencumbered by the political reluctance of one country or the military bureaucracy of another.

But if the next administration is to eschew the go-it-alone strategy, the US must find a way to create coalitions that rise above the sum of their parts, analysts say. Working with other countries on what amount to basic organizational issues is ultimately the answer, says one retired officer.

"If the nature of future conflict is going to be a coalition, and we have enough recent examples to show that we put troops at risk if we greatly encumber command and control," says one retired officer. "Then you have to come up with a solution to this."

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