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Afghanistan Moves Closer to Loya Jirga

The group, selected by the United Nations, will work to assemble Afghan tribal leaders and representatives to form the Loya Jirga that will in turn select a government to rule Afghanistan for 18 months when Karzai’s 6-month term ends.

The move comes just days after donor nations pledged more than $4.5 billion to help rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure, decimated from decades of war.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who joined Karzai in announcing the 21 names, appealed to Afghans to support the group in its endeavor.

“I know not everybody will be entirely happy with the list, but it is a good list,” Annan said. “Let’s support them and work with them.”

Karzai, who took office Dec. 22, said the selection process was fair.

“This shows this is a really nice commission, a real impartial commission and I hope that they, together with the United Nations, will be successful in their work and give Afghanistan a good, representative, fair Loya Jirga,” he said.

Ismael Qasimyar, a Kabul-based expert on law and the constitution, will head the commission. The final 21 commissioners, including two women, were whittled down from an original list of some 300 nominations, Annan said.

Expanding the security force

After his meeting with Annan, Karzai today told reporters he thought the international security force currently policing the Afghan capital Kabul should be expanded to include other areas inside the country.

Karzai said there was an increased desire among Afghans for a broadened international force.

“A lot of Afghans who came to see us in the past month asked us for the presence of the international security force in other parts of Afghanistan,” he said.

Although the former ruling Taliban has been removed from power, tribal rivalries and disputes between warlords still contribute to smaller conflicts inside the country.

A multi-national security force, currently led by Great Britain and expected to grow to some 5,000 troops, has already begun taking shape inside Afghanistan. Currently, the force numbers some 2,200 troops who have confined their patrols to Kabul.

U.S. troops, which are not part of the international effort, will remain in Afghanistan at least until the summer, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Rumsfeld said yesterday troops would continue to search for members of the Taliban and the al-Qaida terrorist network — the group the U.S. says was behind the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

“We do know that there are still a number, a non-trivial number of pockets of al-Qaida and Taliban,” Rumsfeld said. “They’re there. And we keep finding them, and we intend to keep doing that. That takes presence. You can’t do that from Chicago. We have to be in there, and we have to be present, and we have to be ready to do that.”

Rumsfeld said troops would also be ready to assist the Afghan government, saying the U.S. wants “to do what is appropriate for us to do to help them to get through what is clearly a difficult period.”

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