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U.S.: Intelligence Chief Assesses Security Threats From Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan

McConnell testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee (epa) It has been more than six years since U.S. forces entered Afghanistan to battle the Taliban and help establish a stable central government.

During that time, international forces have been working under a UN mandate to help expand the authority of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government beyond the capital of Kabul.

U.S. National Intelligence Director Michael McConnell now says Karzai's government has control over only about 30 percent of the country, while the Taliban controls about 10 percent of Afghan territory.

McConnell told the U.S. Senate's Armed Services Committee on February 27 that the remainder of Afghanistan is mostly under local tribal control -- a reference to factional leaders and regional power brokers who have maintained their own private militia forces.

Some media that covered McConnell's testimony paraphrased his remarks in a way that suggests that 70 percent of Afghan territory remains beyond the control of Karzai's government.

But Sebghatullah Sanjar, a policy adviser for Karzai, tells RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan that those reports are irresponsible because they fail to recognize that many local tribal leaders and commanders support and cooperate with Karzai's central government.

"The state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, in accordance with the laws of the country, has complete sovereignty throughout Afghanistan with the exception of two or three districts in southern Afghanistan where we have security problems," Sanjar says.

"The commanders in Afghanistan -- be it at district level or higher and in the furthest provinces and districts [from Kabul] -- completely respect the rule of law and abide by Afghan laws," he continues. "They obey governors, district chiefs, and all those who are appointed by the state of Afghanistan and are responsible for tending to the daily affairs of the state of Afghanistan in villages and districts."

McConnell's report to the Senate says that although international forces and the Afghan National Army continue to score tactical victories over the Taliban, the security situation deteriorated in some parts of the south during the past year -- with Taliban forces also expanding their operations into previously peaceful areas of western Afghanistan and near Kabul.

It says that the death or capture of three senior Taliban leaders last year -- the Taliban's first high-level losses -- does not yet appear to have significantly disrupted Taliban operations.

McConnell's report concludes that Kabul must work closely with the Afghan parliament -- as well as provincial and tribal leaders -- to establish and extend the capacity of the central government. It also says that although the buildup of the Afghan National Police and the judicial system has improved in the past year, the police and court system remains constrained in its ability to deploy programs at the provincial and local levels.

It also says Afghanistan faces a chronic shortage of resources and of qualified and motivated government officials at both the national and local level.

Nuclear Concerns

A large part of McConnell's security assessment focused on the threat of nuclear proliferation or the possibility that nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorist organizations.

It says Pakistan's political crisis does not appear to have seriously threatened the security and control that Pakistan's army has over Islamabad's nuclear arsenal. But it says there are some vulnerabilities.

Meanwhile, several pages of the 45-page report focus on concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions.

Expanding on a U.S. intelligence report last year that said Tehran appeared to have halted design work on nuclear weapons in 2003, McConnell said the latest intelligence suggests Tehran may have restarted work on nuclear weapons since mid-2007.

More importantly, McConnell stressed in his testimony that Iran has continued to work in two areas related to producing nuclear weapons -- the enrichment of uranium into weapons-grade material and the development of long-range, ballistic-missile systems capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

McConnell concluded that Iran could have enough highly enriched uranium to build a nuclear weapon as soon as late 2009 -- though he said it is "very unlikely" that Iran could succeed so soon. More likely, he said, Iran probably will be technically capable of producing enough enriched uranium for a weapon sometime between 2010 and 2015 -- though it could take longer.

(RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed to this report from Kabul and Prague.)