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Afghanistan: U.S. Senators Discuss International Commitment, Reconstruction

Kabul, 1 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Two American senators, visiting Afghanistan, gave a press conference at the American embassy in Kabul today. Senator Robert G. Torricelli and Senator Jon Corzine are both Democrats who represent the state of New Jersey.

They visited American forces based at Bagram, north of Kabul, and held discussions with the Afghan interim government and its chairman, Hamid Karzai.

Both senators, who will report on their visit to the American senate, said it was vital that America remain in Afghanistan to help revive the economy and bring political stability. That was the only means, they said, of preventing the resurgence of the kind of terrorism in Afghanistan that led to the attacks last 11 September in New York and Washington.

"It was our intention to visit Kabul to express our thanks to the American people, the American armed forces, for their extraordinary courage and the skill with which they perform their mission in Afghanistan. We want them to all know personally how proud the American people are of their service and the skill that they brought to this mission."

Torricelli said they were also in Kabul to assess the situation in Afghanistan for their colleagues in the U.S. Senate and try to determine how long the American mission in Afghanistan will last and what it will entail.

"It's at least very clear to me that while the United States has met with extraordinary military success in remarkably little time, the responsibility of building this country, ensuring that we win not only the war but win the peace, will be much more difficult."

He said that it was essential to help rebuild the country and combat poverty so that terrorists like the Al-Qaeda organization and the Taliban would no longer find "fertile ground" for their teachings.

Senator Jon Corzine said the two men "also came to understand the terms of rebuilding this nation, the kind of resources that would be necessary, the kind of time frame that may need to be considered.

"I think we can go home with an agenda of issues on trade, issues on education and military training that can be useful in the discussions that we'll have among our colleagues in the Senate. And we come away with a sense of great pride in what America has done but also the great sense of responsibility that that mission isn't complete, that winning the war isn't winning a peace. We have much to do on that score."

Torricelli said that although the U.S. and other countries had pledged financial assistance, certain conditions had to be met by Afghanistan to ensure that money was not wasted.

"There is usually an extraordinary difference between the pledges that nations make in development assistance and what is ever delivered. Part of that is that being willing to give aid and having the ability for it to be absorbed are different things. The infrastructure in Afghanistan to actually receive assistance and spend it efficiently simply isn't in place."

But he said that America has a role to play in the development of Afghanistan and should have the personnel in the country to do that.

Torricelli said that if the international community abandons Afghanistan, the Taliban will return in some form. He said that after meetings with Afghan politicians and other figures, he was convinced the country was ready to work for peace and stability.

"I have been involved in American foreign policy for 20 years and I have visited countries evolving from warfare from [El] Salvador to Cambodia to Vietnam. I have never witnessed a people so exhausted of war, with such an overwhelming desire for national reconciliation. This is still a country that has political and regional and cultural differences but an extraordinary sense of optimism of national reconciliation, simply because no one considers warfare an option. The peace must work. I don't think the people of Afghanistan doubt their own ability to settle differences and have a peaceful future. They are still doubting the commitment of the international community, having won the war, to remain and make the peace work."