The international effort in Afghanistan requires a comprehensive strategy that looks beyond increasing the foreign troop presence, U.S. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said.
Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations that the mission in Afghanistan should focus on military training and advisers so Afghan forces will be able to sustain any gains made by international forces.
"The needs we have there include now this requirement to provide civilian capacity; to develop ministries at the local level, the district level, the national level; to develop their agricultural capability and other economic impact kinds of areas," he said.
Critics reacted to the new Washington strategy for Afghanistan as a scaled-back version of the conflict envisioned by U.S. President George W. Bush. Mullen, however, said the principal challenges in Afghanistan -- al-Qaida, corruption, and others -- could be met by integrating reconstruction with national security.
"Our success in Afghanistan is tied directly not just to their security but to their overall (success in) having a government that provides for them and having an economic future that makes their lives viable," he said.
Afghanistan not solely a military effort
NATO expressed its position that regional security was linked to security in Afghanistan, adding the mission there was not strictly a military effort.
NATO issued its summit declaration on Afghanistan following a major international conference in the Netherlands last week that saw widespread support from allies and foes alike. The alliance had faced difficulties in meeting its troop commitments to Afghanistan, but eventually came forward with pledges of an additional 5,000 troops.
The declaration put Afghanistan at the top of the NATO agenda, saying "we remain committed for the long run" to a democratic Afghanistan that is no longer a threat to the international community.
U.S. President Barack Obama laid out a new strategy for Afghanistan that called for additional U.S. troops and trainers, a renewed focus on al-Qaida and non-military aid to Pakistan.
NATO in its declaration welcomed that strategy, as well as sentiments from the Netherlands summit, but stressed the solution to Afghanistan did not lie in a military strategy alone.
"Success requires a stronger regional approach that involves all Afghanistan's neighbors and, as this is not a purely military endeavor, greater civilian resources," the declaration read.
Though the Kabul government has made modest gains and the Afghan national forces have improved, NATO said issues ranging from rampant corruption to chronic insecurity continued to plague developments in the war-torn nation.
"As Afghan capacity increases, our part in providing security will evolve to focus increasingly on mentoring and training," the statement read. "We remain resolute in our commitment to help the Afghan people build a better future."
Taliban says Afghan plans will backfire
International plans to increase the troop presence in Afghanistan will only make the insurgency more attractive to foreign fighters, a Taliban leader said.
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, considered one of the more moderate members of the Taliban regime, said in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that more foreign troops in Afghanistan would result in increased opposition from jihadi militants.
The United States and its NATO allies have agreed to boost their troop presence in Afghanistan as part of a broader strategy to turn the tide in what is considered by some to be a neglected conflict.
U.S. President Barack Obama had included courting moderate elements of the Taliban in that strategy, but Zaeef said that effort was a veiled attempt at undermining the fundamentalist regime.
He further warned that the new international effort in Afghanistan was part of a broader war plan, not a peace plan, saying improvements in Afghanistan will not take place with foreign troops in the country.
"When the enemy becomes stronger, the other enemy becomes more extreme to exist," he said.
PUK, KDP to run on unified list
The leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan announced they would run under a unified list in the May provincial election.
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, the leader of the PUK, and Massoud Barzani, the head of the KDP and president of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq, said they had agreed to a power-sharing arrangement for provincial elections in Kurdistan tentatively scheduled for May 19.
"The two parties will take part on a unified list, and the list is open for others to join," Talabani said.
Both parties had met earlier to discuss the arrangements while tackling issues related to disputes over Kirkuk, which the leaders said fell on a three-member presidency council in Baghdad to decide, the Kurdish Globe reports.
"Because the problem is not only in Kirkuk but borders of Najaf, Karbala, Diyala, Mosul and Erbil were also changed, it makes it difficult for the presidency board to find an accordance," the Iraqi president said.
Saddam Hussein had attempted to alter the demographics of the region as part of an effort to control oil reserves in the north. The Iraqi Constitution outlines provisions for reversing that policy.
The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq said it expected to announce its findings on the dispute within the month.
UNAMI tackles disputed territories
The U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq reported it was working on the final details pertaining to the so-called disputed territories in northern Iraq.
UNAMI said in a news release that a pending report would include discussions on Kirkuk and several other provisions under the terms of U.N. Security Council resolutions 1770 and 1830.
The Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq claims authority over Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaimaniya provinces. It also claims portions of several other northern provinces, including Diyala and Ninawa.
In an effort to alter the demographics of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein launched a campaign in the late 1980s to drive Kurdish, Assyrian and Turkoman families from the region. One provision, Article 140, considers whether enough Kurds have returned to the area to consider it Kurdish.
Another, Article 23 calls for a power-sharing arrangement between Kurds, Turkomen and Arabs at the local level.
Observers fear if matters pertaining to the administration over the disputed territories are not resolved before U.S. forces leave Iraq, tensions between the KRG and the central government in Baghdad could erupt into violence.
UNAMI said it would present its findings to relevant authorities on the administrative options for the region within the month.
Iraqi leaders back Palestinian state
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met with leading Iraqi officials to discuss bilateral relations and the efforts toward peace in the Middle East.
Abbas arrived on an official visit to Baghdad during the weekend where he met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and others, the Voices of Iraq news agency reports.
Hashimi expressed his support for an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital while calling on Abbas to seek unity with Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.
Maliki, for his part, expressed similar sentiments, noting his unity government in Baghdad was willing to provide a level of support for the Palestinian cause.
Abbas noted his visit was in part a show of Arab unity in the region and sign of Iraqi recovery. His arrival comes on the heels of a visit to the region by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. Turkish President Abdullah Gul had also visited Iraq in March, becoming the first Turkish head of state to do so in 30 years.
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