Britain, Japan to help reintegrate Taliban foot soldiers

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By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Britain and Japan have agreed to head an international fund, expected to total up to $500 million over the next five years, as part of a broad plan to help lure Taliban fighters away from the insurgency with the promise of jobs, protection against retaliation, and the removal of their names from lists of U.S. and NATO targets.

Establishment of the fund will be announced Thursday at a high-level international conference on Afghanistan in London, according to U.S. and British officials. Representatives from nearly 70 nations, including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, will attend.

The fund will help support a proposal by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, to be announced at the conference, to begin the reintegration of low-level fighters. Karzai will also outline his strategy for reconciliation with amenable insurgent leaders.

Reintegration is a key component of the Afghanistan strategy President Obama outlined last fall. U.S. officials have said that they believe that up to 80 percent of Taliban foot soldiers are fighting for money and because of local grievances rather than in support of an ideology. Earlier reintegration efforts have failed, officials have said, because of poor planning, inadequate security and insufficient financial support.

Japan is expected to provide the largest contribution to the new fund, out of a $5 billion aid commitment made in November. Britain and the United States also plan to make sizable contributions, officials said.

The administration is looking to the one-day conference for policy commitments in support of Obama's new strategy -- including his deployment of more than 30,000 additional U.S. troops -- from governments whose backing has often been tentative in the face of widespread opposition from their publics. Although several other nations, including Britain, have promised to send more forces, early commitments of up to 7,000 troops include some who had been previously scheduled to be rotated into Afghanistan. Both Germany and France have resisted calls to send more troops, and Canada and the Netherlands have set dates for the withdrawal of their combat forces.

Karzai is also expected to present the conference with new economic development proposals and plans to stem the corruption that plagues his government.

U.N. diplomats said Monday that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon plans to announce at the conference the appointment of a new U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan to play a leading role in overseeing often-overlapping and uncoordinated development efforts by the United States and NATO. The current envoy, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, is scheduled to depart Afghanistan in March. The leading candidate to replace him, U.S. and allied officials said, is Sweden's Stephan de Mistura, a career U.N. diplomat who previously served as head of the U.N. mission in Iraq.

Most attention in the lead-up to the conference, however, has focused on the reintegration and reconciliation plans. Until recently, Obama's administration, like George W. Bush's, had expressed interest in the reintegration of low-level Taliban fighters while resisting suggestions that senior insurgent leaders could be wooed toward reconciliation with the Afghan government.

More recently, however, U.S. officials have said that anyone, with few exceptions, who agrees to lay down arms and respect the Afghan constitution can potentially be reconciled. When Eide suggested last month that the United Nations reconsider some of the names on its "blacklist" of terrorists, Richard C. Holbrooke, the administration's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said he was not opposed.

In an interview Monday with MSNBC, Holbrooke said he saw no reason to take senior Taliban leaders such as Mohammad Omar off the list. "But we can revisit that list," he said. "Some of the people on it are dead. Some probably are innocent. We ought to reexamine it."

But with insurgent forces inflicting heavy losses on U.S., NATO and Afghan troops, and leaders of the Taliban and several related groups showing little inclination to negotiate, U.S. and international efforts have focused on the reintegration of lower-level insurgents.

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