Rumsfeld Arrives in Kabul After Talks in Tajikistan
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
KABUL, Afghanistan, July 11 -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived in Afghanistan early Tuesday on a visit to evaluate the ongoing transition to NATO forces in the restive south and to get a sense of recent Taliban aggressions against coalition forces there.
En route from Tajikistan, Rumsfeld met with Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Eikenberry told reporters in Dushanbe, Tajikistan's capital, that the causes of the rise in violence in southern Afghanistan are "complex," citing a more organized and well-manned Taliban, increased narcotics trafficking, warring tribal factions and general "criminality."
Eikenberry said such forces are strongest in areas with the least amount of infrastructure and where the Afghan government has not fully established its presence. He said NATO forces moving in should help significantly. "We very much have the momentum," he said.
Rumsfeld plans to meet with President Hamid Karzai here Tuesday.
In Dushanbe on Monday, Rumsfeld opened talks with leaders about increasing cooperation in the war against terrorism and how to counter the growing stream of drugs from Afghanistan.
It was Rumsfeld's third visit to Tajikistan, which shares a lengthy border with Afghanistan and China. The former Soviet republic has been helping the United States with the war in Afghanistan since 2002 by allowing flights to cross its borders and by providing refueling stations, such as at Dushanbe International Airport, where Rumsfeld landed Monday.
Defense officials said there were no plans to establish a U.S. base in Tajikistan but said they have talked to President Imamali Rakhmonov and his senior advisers about basing possibilities for support of the Afghan effort. The United States is looking to expand its basing options in the region because it lost the use of a strategic base in neighboring Uzbekistan, which decided it no longer wanted to host U.S. troops. The military since has relied on a base in Kyrgystan.
"We obviously always need to be positioned so that we have more than one option," Rumsfeld told reporters en route to Tajikistan late Sunday night. "Our goal for our country is to have as many countries cooperating in the global war on terror and providing as many types of cooperation as they feel comfortable providing."
After discussions Monday night, Rumsfeld and Tajikistan's foreign minister, Talbak Nazarov, told reporters that there were no plans to add U.S. bases in the country or in Central Asia. Rumsfeld, however, acknowledged a need for support for the war in Afghanistan and said Tajikistan's arrangement with the United States has been and will continue to be "mutually beneficial."
Nearly one-third of Tajikistan's border is shared with Afghanistan, and Tajikistan has become a preferred route for a large portion of the opium coming from Afghanistan. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration and the CIA, most of the illicit drugs that emerge from Central Asia travel through Tajikistan to Russian and Western European markets.
Rumsfeld said he was concerned about the role narcotics play in the resurgent Taliban fighting in southern Afghanistan. He called the demand for opium and heroin "enormous," saying it would take a societal plan and more involvement by Western European nations to quell the trade out of Afghanistan. Rumsfeld said the Taliban appeared to be profiting from the drug trade, as well as offering protection.
"I do worry that the funds that come from the sale of those products could conceivably end up adversely affecting the democratic process in the country," he said of Afghanistan. "I also think anytime there is that much money floating around and you have people like the Taliban, that it gives them an opportunity to fund their efforts in various ways."
Tajikistan has been working to improve border security with the help of U.S. equipment and training, and there are several thousand Russian troops in the country, remnants of a division stationed there during Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war. French troops also use Dushanbe's airport.
Nazarov, the foreign minister, said that in the meetings, President Rakhmonov expressed worries about the growth of Afghan drugs moving over the border and their ability to disrupt efforts against terrorism. The president also "emphasized that despite the measures being taken, still the destabilizing factors in Afghanistan have not been uprooted," Nazarov said.