The United States says it is prepared to provide help to various Afghan groups opposed to the ruling Taliban militia. But senior U.S. officials say it is not Washington's goal to overthrow the Taliban. The officials say it is up to the Afghan people to choose their own government. And they say the Afghans deserve better than the Taliban.
Washington, 2 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has signaled its intention to provide military and financial support to foes of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia.
U.S. officials say that while Washington does not seek to overthrow the Taliban, it will support Afghan opposition groups who want to replace the current government.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer summed up the U.S. position at a briefing yesterday:
"The United States is not going to get in the business of choosing who rules Afghanistan, but the United States will assist those who are seeking a peaceful and economically developed Afghanistan that does not engage in terrorism."
Asked how Washington would support such groups, Fleischer said through a variety of ways, which can involve political, diplomatic, military as well as financial assistance.
The United States has mounted a military buildup around Afghanistan and launched a diplomatic campaign to try to force the Taliban to hand over suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. The Taliban militia rules about 90 percent of Afghan territory. It is recognized only by Pakistan as a legitimate government.
U.S. officials believe the Saudi-born millionaire and his Al-Qaeda network, both given sanctuary by the Taliban, were responsible for the 11 September attacks in New York and Washington.
Fleischer said the U.S. antiterrorist campaign is not directed at the Afghan people.
"Of course it is always important to separate the people of Afghanistan who simply want to live their lives, from the Taliban, which has repressed the people of Afghanistan and has now resorted to such measures as taking away the international food [by relief organizations] that has been provided to the people of Afghanistan. So there really is a difference between the regime that so-called 'represents' the people of Afghanistan, and the desires of the people."
A senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity said Washington would support a grand council called by Taliban opponents to oust the fundamentalist Islamic movement.
The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has been in contact with exiled Afghani King Mohammed Zahir Shah, and with the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The contacts became more intense after the terrorist attacks.
Representatives of the Northern Alliance, the main opposition force, and the 86-year-old king said yesterday they had reached an agreement to convene an assembly designed to establish a moderate government in Kabul.
Media reports said Bush already has approved millions of dollars to help groups inside Afghanistan that oppose the Taliban.
Bush did not comment publicly on these reports but cited what he called progress on the war against terrorism.
"Thus far we've frozen $6 million in bank accounts linked to terrorist activity. We've frozen 30 Al-Qaeda accounts in the United States and 20 overseas. And we are just beginning."
On the military front, U.S. Defense Department officials said the Pentagon has deployed another aircraft carrier in a continuing military buildup in the Persian Gulf region.
The latest carrier to be deployed was the USS Kitty Hawk. It is expected to steam into the Indian Ocean, a move which would put three U.S. carriers in the area. The carriers Carl Vinson and Independence were already in or near the Gulf and the Theodore Roosevelt is believed to be in the Mediterranean. Bush said:
"We've deployed 29,000 military personnel in two carrier battle groups as well as an amphibious ready group and several hundred military aircraft. We've called about 17,000 members of the reserve to active duty as well as several thousand National Guard operating under state authority."
At the Pentagon, which was heavily damaged by the terrorists, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the U.S. military is ready to carry out whatever mission the president orders. He also said the attacks have led to the re-examination of military tactics and strategy concerning the home front.
"Much of our effort has been to transform our forces to meet the challenges of the future. As of 11 September the future was thrust upon us."
At the State Department, spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. is not ignoring human rights concerns in Uzbekistan or elsewhere in its efforts to build an international coalition to fight terrorism.
Boucher said the U.S. has always stood for human rights. He added the U.S. believes that terrorism itself is an assault on the human rights of everyone.
Boucher made the comments in response to questions about concerns that the U.S. was expected to ignore human rights violations in some countries in Central Asia in return for help in the antiterror campaign. He said:
"We have made the case in Central Asia and elsewhere that a recognition of the legitimate right of believers in Islam is an important part of separating the people who would use violence and use the religion as a pretext or pervert the religion into some kind of weird justification."
Boucher said the U.S. has continued to work with governments based on Washington's fundamental commitments to human rights, democracy, and free markets.