RFE/RL: How much of a difference will it make to keep the 3,200 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan for at least four more months?
James Phillips: I think it will make a difference in that it'll be a signal to the Afghan government, to the Afghan people and to Pakistan that the U.S. is in Afghanistan to stay. But I don't think by itself it will be decisive. I think also there needs to be an increase of economic aid and reconstruction in Afghanistan to build support for the government.
RFE/RL: Which is more important, an enhanced military presence or the political and economic aid?
Phillips: I think, in the long run, the economic and political side [of U.S. and NATO assistance] will be crucial. But in order to build a better future, [Afghans] need greater security aid from the U.S. and from NATO.
RFE/RL: Besides U.S. forces, how involved are other NATO troops in Afghanistan in security?
Phillips: While some NATO allies have been very forthcoming, such as Britain, Canada, and Poland, for example, others have attached caveats that restrict the use of their troops. In addition to more troops, it would be very helpful if these caveats could be eliminated to improve the mobility of NATO troops, it would free up more of them to operate where the Taliban is strongest -- the south and east along the border [with Pakistan].
RFE/RL: What are the caveats, and which countries are operating under which caveats?
Phillips: I believe they're classified, so it's not clear which countries have which caveats. But, for instance, I've heard some refuse to fly at night, which makes it very difficult to use them for transport purposes. And others have stipulated that they don't want to get involved in anti-riot activity against Afghan crowds.
RFE/RL: You were in Afghanistan last autumn. While you were there, were you able to learn at least which countries have caveats, even if you don't know what these limitations are?
Phillips: I'm not sure which ones, but my impression is that there's a lot of them. That's something I couldn't learn when I went to Afghanistan. The ISAF force is very closed-mouthed about it.
RFE/RL: Earlier, you said the extended stay of 3,200 U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan would send a message to Pakistan. What would that message be?
"It's my impression that there are elements within the Pakistani government that are waiting for the U.S. and NATO to get tired in Afghanistan."
Phillips: It's my impression that there are elements within the Pakistani government that are waiting for the U.S. and NATO to get tired in Afghanistan so [Pakistanis] can reinsert [into Afghanistan] some of their allies from the Taliban movement. Also, I think, Pakistanis tend to be fearful that a nationalist Afghanistan will stir up trouble with Pakistan's large Pashtun majority [in the part of Pakistan] which straddles the border. [Pashtuns] dominate Afghanistan, but they're an important minority in Pakistan.
RFE/RL: Many in Washington say they expect a new spring offensive like -- or maybe even stronger than -- the one that the Taliban staged a year ago. Do you expect one?
Phillips: I would be surprised if the Taliban doesn't try to stage a spring offensive because there's a rhythm for fighting in Afghanistan where the wars tend to close down in the winter, when the mountain passes are clogged with snow, and then the war lurches forward in the spring, when the snow melts. Based on experience last year, which was more intense fighting than previous years, I would expect the Taliban to try to make a move in the spring. Part of the rationale behind holding [U.S.] troops over is to preempt the offensive.
A U.S. military vehicle damaged by insurgents near Kandahar (epa)
HOMEGROWN OR IMPORTED? As attacks against Afghan and international forces continue relentlessly, RFE/RL hosted a briefing to discuss the nature of the Afghan insurgency. The discussion featured Marvin Weinbaum, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and RFE/RL Afghanistan analyst Amin Tarzi.
LISTENListen to the entire briefing (about 83 minutes):
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