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U.S. Commander In Afghanistan Puts Forward Reconciliation Plan

U.S. General David McKiernan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The top commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan has recommended a plan to stem growing violence by empowering local Afghan leaders, including former Taliban members.

"That is the local leadership that we have to work with for a successful outcome in Afghanistan," U.S. Army Gen. David McKiernan said while advocating support for district governing councils that are willing to accept the Afghan constitution and reject the Taliban.

"Reconciliation at the local level, of local fighters, of local influencers, potentially is a very, very powerful metric," he said in remarks before the Washington-based Atlantic Council of the United States. "This is a country that historically has had very little central government. But it's a country with a history of local autonomy and local tribal authority systems."

McKiernan laid out details of the strategy for engaging what he called "small-t" Taliban members, saying he is already talking to Afghan ministers about a prototype plan that would assemble district leaders into a shura, or tribal council, backed by Western development aid.

Reconciliation with some Taliban members has already been embraced by U.S. officials as a possible antidote to surging violence that has reached its highest level since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled Afghanistan's former Taliban regime.

No Political Outcome

U.S. military officials have conceded that the United States is not winning in Afghanistan and that a 70,000-strong Western military force cannot succeed without political, diplomatic and development assistance for the local populace.

We're not going to run out of bad people in Afghanistan that have bad intentions...
"We're not going to run out of bad people in Afghanistan that have bad intentions and we're not going to kill and capture so many of these bad people that it's going to break the will of all the insurgent groups," McKiernan said.

"Ultimately, it's going to be people that decide that they want a different outcome in Afghanistan. It's going to be a political outcome," he said.

McKiernan likened his plan to the so-called Awakening Council movement in Iraq, which began when local Sunni tribesmen in western Iraq chose to join U.S. forces against Al-Qaeda militants.

He said the plan he has discussed with Afghan ministers calls for Kabul to assemble local leaders into a shura council that would then select a representative committee with backing from the United States and the international community.

But he warned against empowering tribes to fight militants, which has been the approach in Iraq and more recently in Pakistan's tribal areas where militants have safe havens.

"I could spend the next 20 or 30 years in Afghanistan and I would not understand the tribal connections," McKiernan said.

"It's not a good chemistry," he added. "For every tribe that you support, you are disadvantaging other families and other tribes. And they know that, whereas you might not."