Keeping the Peace
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RAY SUAREZ: It’s been just over a year since the U.S. and its allies teamed up with the Northern Alliance to drive the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and put its al-Qaida backers on the run.
Soon after U.S.-backed forces liberated the Afghan capital, Kabul, a multinational peacekeeping force known as ISAF was charged with maintaining calm in and around the capital, while the coalition forces concentrated on hunting down al-Qaida.
The United Kingdom led the United Nations-mandated force, now totaling 4,800 troops from more than 20 countries, for the first six-month stint. In June, Turkey took charge.
Besides security patrols, ISAF’s duties include: assisting in rebuilding the country’s war-shattered infrastructure, including hospitals, roads and airports; removing landmines littering the landscape; and training an Afghan security force.
But despite the ISAF presence in Kabul and some 7,000 US troops in the country, Afghanistan is still a dangerous place. The fledgling government of interim President Hamid Karzai is under attack from Taliban remnants and trying to keep together Afghanistan’s ethnic factions often at odds.
And last week, repeated power failures and food shortages sparked student protests at Kabul University. Police opened fire on a crowd after about 1,000 students took to the streets. At least two students were killed, several others wounded. Outside of Kabul, sporadic fighting continues in the South near the Pakistani border.
After an attempt on his own life, and the killings of a Vice President and a tourism minister earlier this year, Karzai asked the US For a team of American soldiers to protect him.
Even amid the occasional violence, and even though key al-Qaida and Taliban leaders are still on the loose, the US And its allies have said recently they’re shifting the focus away from combat missions to reconstruction, and they’re considering expanding ISAF beyond Kabul’s borders. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that Afghanistan will become more secure if its government gets stronger.
DEFENSE SECRETARY DONALD RUMSFELD: The reality is that you could stick a half a million troops from 20 countries into Afghanistan, and you wouldn’t necessarily improve the security circumstance, as long as you’ve got Taliban and al-Qaida in Pakistan and Iran and porous borders.
What has to be done is not to dramatically increase the number of security people, in my view, but the government has to find its sea legs. And it has to develop the confidence… people have to develop confidence in that government that that government is delivering for them and making their lives better.
And that means you’ve got to focus on the humanitarian side. You simply have to focus on the civil works side. And people have to develop a stake in that country and in that government.
RAY SUAREZ: Germany and the Netherlands are expected to take over leadership of the international peacekeeping force from Turkey early next year.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on the situation on the ground in and around Kabul, we’re joined by the Turkish commander of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, Major General Hilmi Akin Zorlu. Welcome, General.
GENERAL HILMI AKIN ZORLU: Thank you very much.
RAY SUAREZ: When you took over from the British in June, you said, “We’ll do our best to enhance the peace and welfare of the people of Kabul.” It’s been five months. How’s it going so far?
GENERAL HILMI AKIN ZORLU: Actually, what we have promised during the hand-over time, we have been conducting and achieving our goals. First of all, the security situation in and around Kabul has been improving each passing day.
I should give a concrete example of that. As you know, there have been curfew hours for 23 years in Kabul and all over the provinces of Afghanistan. After improving the situation, we have discussed this issue with the minister of inteligraph of Afghanistan, Mr. Valdak, and decided to lift the curfew hours, which were three hours after midnight, within Kabul, and it was lifted on third of this month. And now, there is no increase in the criminal activities.
We have been observing that, and it’s a good thing. It’s a good feeling given to the Afghan people. It’s a psychologically security improvement, and also, it’s a good sign given to the international community to come to Kabul and Afghanistan, to start investments for those poor people who have been suffering from the wars over 23 years.
RAY SUAREZ: There have recently been rumors of attempted rocket attacks, vandalism and sabotage against parts of the public utility system. Are there still elements in Kabul that make it dangerous for the citizens living there?
GENERAL HILMI AKIN ZORLU: Actually, there was a car bomb attack on the 5th of September, which caused 26 deaths and over 100 wounded people. It was the last terrorist attack and the most significant terrorist attack.
After that, we have, as ISAF, and the other local security forces, we have found out in different parts of Kabul hundreds of rockets, missiles, explosive materials, increasing the intelligence gathering and sharing with the local forces. We are really successful to do that. So far, our explosive ordinance people have been exploding and then destroying over 100,000 ammunition — largely missiles, unexploded ordinance, rockets. We have been destroying day and night.
So we have prevented a lot of terrorist attempts and make them difficult working conditions in Kabul. And today, I could say that Kabul is much a more safer city than many western cities with three million people.
RAY SUAREZ: If you can keep the services going, if you can keep the electricity on, clean water running, more buildings that are meant to be homes filled with people, does it make the place easier to police, easier to protect?
GENERAL HILMI AKIN ZORLU: That’s true. That’s 100 percent true. That’s why we have been pursuing these issues for the people. First of all, as I said, we have been continuing to implement the civil military cooperation projects, dealing with, as you told, the schools, the medical facilities, the electricity problem, water problem, road problems, and all kinds of issues we have been dealing with.
The aim of them, two aims: First to help the people as much as possible we could. Secondly, to get force protection, and it means that present ourselves to the people why we are in Kabul, why… what we have been doing in Kabul. People… actually, the poor people, unlike the people because of the wars after 23 years, people understand ISAF and ISAF function. Actually, seven percent of the people can watch television, and approximately 40 percent of the Kabul citizens can listen to any radio because of the shortages of radio and television. But 100 percent of them knows what is ISAF and what ISAF has been doing. There is no doubt about ISAF among the people. It’s very good.
RAY SUAREZ: As you’ve been turning your attention away from police and military to humanitarian work, or the emphasis, can you do that work with so much promised aid not coming in yet?
GENERAL HILMI AKIN ZORLU: For our aid projects, we have been provided mainly by the lead nation, Turkey. It was by the UK, during the UK leadership, and the… also we have been using some European Union funding, and also US AID funding. We have been provided. But unfortunately, limited funding we have. But what we have promised to the people, we have 100 percent implemented what we have been expected.
RAY SUAREZ: Let’s talk a little bit about the rest of the country, since your force protects only Kabul, is there still widespread fighting with the remnants of Taliban and al-Qaida forces in other parts of the country?
GENERAL HILMI AKIN ZORLU: As to the other parts of the country, the coalition forces led by United States have been continuing hunting the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida.
Actually, it’s difficult to… I mean, it’s not true to say that a large number of troops of Taliban and al-Qaida still stay in Afghanistan. They have spread out some parts of country, especially the east part of the country and the south part of the country with small groups.
They have been organized, or we can say, reorganized as troops to conduct terrorist activities because for the terrorist activities, they cannot use a mass group of the troops. So small size of troops for the weapons and the ammunition. In Afghanistan there is no shortages of ammunition and weapons. Everywhere is full of weapons, ammunition, mines. So they have.
But people actually ask get rid of wars. So the Afghani people know the value of peace and freedom. And they… I believe that they have deserved to have this, and they are happy. So they could not have too much public support by the people. There are… in some regions, there are very low-level conflicts between the local leaders. But the government tries to convince them to get together, and reestablish, reorganize the country’s future.
So if the international community continues to support the Afghan government and Afghanistan politically, economically and technically, all the leaders around the country, I think, will get together and establish the future of the country.
RAY SUAREZ: So you can see a day when your forces will be able to hand over security duties to an Afghan force, when police responsibilities in Kabul can be done by Afghans?
GENERAL HILMI AKIN ZORLU: Actually, it’s early to say for that. I think there’s a need for three years until the national army would be established and be assigned to other provinces to control the territory on behalf of the government. Since that the ISAF will leave the country, hand over the security issues to the local police, and then government can work much more secure conditions… under secure conditions, I think. It needs to have two or three years.
RAY SUAREZ: Two or three years. General Zorlu, thanks a lot for coming by.
GENERAL HILMI AKIN ZORLU: You’re welcome. Thank you very much.