RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan hosted a call-in program with the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, in which listeners were invited to ask him about U.S.-Afghan relations. Eikenberry answered Afghans' questions about the implications of the recently announced strategy for the region, U.S. views on relations between Afghanistan and its neighbors, and Washington's commitment to their country. Questioner: Where will the 30,000 additional U.S. soldiers being deployed to Afghanistan be sent in the country? Are there any plans to deploy them in parts of northern Afghanistan where the Taliban has been growing in strength during the past year? Eikenberry:
It's evident that over the last two years in parts of northwest and northern Afghanistan, the security situation -- in certain parts -- has deteriorated. I would point to Baghdis, Konduz, and Baghlan.
I know that actions have been taken, though, recently, which have begun to reverse the situation in Konduz. And although the majority of...the additional troops from the United States will go to southern and eastern Afghanistan, I believe that other NATO allies, but more importantly the Afghan national security forces, with their increasing strength, will be contending with the problems in certain places of the north and the northwest [to] which you referred. Questioner: Can you say something more about the importance of Pakistan's cooperation to stabilize the security situation in Afghanistan.Eikenberry:
We know that the security of Afghanistan cannot be provided by means taken within Afghanistan only. The security of Afghanistan is influenced by the security of Pakistan.
And we have to be frank, that there is a problem with the Afghan Taliban and their associates that have sanctuary in parts of Pakistan today.
Pakistan, I believe, recognizes the threat that Afghan Taliban poses to their own security, most recently, I heard the foreign minister of Pakistan say that increasingly in Pakistan they see the connection between the Pakistan Taliban, the Afghan Taliban, and terrorism.
We think it's essential if Afghanistan is going to enjoy peace and prosperity, the need for Pakistan to take action against the Afghan Taliban is clear.
As part of our diplomatic engagement with Pakistan, of course, we've emphasized the importance of Pakistan taking action against the Afghan Taliban. We think it's essential if Afghanistan is going to enjoy peace and prosperity, the need for Pakistan to take action against the Afghan Taliban is clear.
And again, I do believe that increasingly the Pakistani leaders see it in their interest that they do have to address this problem squarely. Questioner: What can you tell us about the role of Iran in helping Taliban militants -- particularly those that have been proliferating in western Afghanistan?Eikenberry:
There are intelligence reports that Iran or elements within Iran have provided training assistance to Taliban and have provided some weapons to Taliban.
I know [U.S.] General [David] Petraeus has said that the scope of that support is nothing on the level of the support that was given previously, at one time, by Iran to various terrorist elements in Iraq. Still, the reports that continue to be received about this kind of low-level support and periodic cooperation between elements in Iran and the militant extremist Taliban are disturbing and do not show good faith by [Afghanistan's] neighbor to the west.Questioner: Why is there no mention of reconciliation and reintegration of former Taliban fighters in the new Obama strategy? Does this mean the United States is opposed to the idea?Eikenberry:
Clearly, part of the comprehensive strategy of your government supported by the United States and the international community is one in which of course reconciliation and reintegration have an important role. I'd like to emphasize that the United States and indeed the international community will support the efforts of the government of Afghanistan to move forward with a more comprehensive policy on reconciliation and reintegration.
With regard to civilian casualties: Since General McChrystal has taken command, there's been a very important, very significant reduction in the amount of civilian casualties that have been caused in fighting as a result of NATO aerial bombardments. Indeed the NATO-ISAF forces are extremely careful in the use of aerial bombardment -- to the point of risking their own security.
Secondly, with regard to civilian casualties, I'd like to emphasize that we're fighting an enemy that does not share the same concern about protections of civilians as the Afghan army and our forces do. And the vast, vast majority of civilian casualties that are occurring today in Afghanistan are a result of Taliban militant extremist, terrorist attacks.
And I know that President Karzai has publicly acknowledged the extraordinary steps that General McChrystal as the commander has taken to better protect the Afghan people....
Let me emphasize that the United States is not withdrawing from Afghanistan; we have a long-term partnership with your country.
We will have a long-term relationship of providing security assistance, training, equipment, special capabilities to your army and police in the years ahead. And just as we were here in the 1950s and 1960s providing developmental assistance, our developmental assistance, our economic relations will continue in the decades ahead. Our long-term relationship.
This is not about withdrawal, it's about strengthening our friendship and partnership over the longer term.
And we will continue to have extraordinarily strong diplomatic relationship, and there'll be strong people-to-people relationship between our peoples for decades to come. So this is not about withdrawal, it's about strengthening our friendship and partnership over the longer term. Questioner: Both the U.S. military and U.S. civilian officials have said in past years that success or failure in Afghanistan could be measured by their ability to repair, rebuild and bring all three power-generating turbines at the Kajaki Dam back on-line so it can provide electricity to some 2 million people in Helmand Province and Kandahar city. But it emerged this week that parts for the third turbine are now being packed away in storage because security forces have been unable to keep the Taliban away from a 50-kilometer stretch of road in Helmand's Sangin district needed to transport concrete and other materials to the dam site. What can you tell us about the current status of the Kajaki Dam project?Eikenberry:
I'm glad the topic has changed to development. Development is a topic about hope. And the United States and our people are very proud of the developmental assistance that we have offered to Afghanistan since 2002.
I'd like to highlight at this point that our developmental assistance will have very significant increases during the next couple of years. On the Kajaki Dam during the last four years, there have been heroic efforts that have led to the refurbishment, the renovation, of two of the three big turbines that are at Kajaki Dam.
The second turbine just recently came on-line and we are proud of that accomplishment. It was accomplished against very difficult odds. But as a result, in Kandahar and directly in the city of Lashkar Gar, there is much more power available than was available in 2001.
When the security improves in the Kajaki and the Sangin area and the connecting roads, we are optimistic that the third turbine can be renovated. With the third turbine being delivered on-line or fully renovated, with the renovation and improvement of transmission lines from Kajaki down to Kandahar, and with the improvement of the electrical distribution in Kandahar city which we are working on right now -- with all of that, there will be much more power available, making the lives of the people in Kandahar and Helmand...much better.