A senior State Department official will fly to Kabul in the next few days to officially open a U.S. diplomatic mission in Afghanistan for the first time in twelve years.
Officials here say veteran U.S. diplomat James Dobbins heads to Kabul with a small number of colleagues later this week to inaugurate what for the time being will be called the U.S. "liaison office" in the Afghan capital. Mr. Dobbins, who had been serving as a special envoy to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taleban Afghan factions, will set up shop in the war-damaged compound in central Kabul that was the U.S. embassy until it was closed down for security reasons in 1989.
U.S. Marines moved in to secure the compound a week ago, and a survey team from Washington has been inspecting the site, which was partially looted and burned by pro-Taleban rioters in September. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says conditions for the incoming diplomats will be less-than-ideal, but that the facility should be ready for the re-opening, expected next Monday. "The embassy chancery building is structurally-sound but it doesn't have reliable electricity, water, and it needs various other repairs," he says. "There is a whole variety of other logistical problems in getting up-and-running. But none-the-less we are making arrangements to overcome those problems, to provide adequate security for the people that will go in, and we expect to establish our diplomatic presence in Kabul very soon."
The arrival of Mr. Dobbins and his colleagues will give the United States a functioning mission in Kabul in advance of the assumption of power by Afghanistan's interim administration on December 22. Mr. Dobbins helped the United Nations broker the deal among Afghan factions in Germany last week that produced the interim government.
Mr. Boucher says Mr. Dobbins will continue, after taking up his post in Kabul, to mediate among factions on a permanent broad-based government and help coordinate post-war reconstruction efforts.
The "liaison office" will be elevated to diplomatic status after formal U.S. recognition of the interim government. Mr. Dobbins is expected to remain in Kabul for several weeks until the arrival of a permanent chief of mission.
The United States has not had a full ambassador in Kabul since 1979, when the then-ambassador Adolph Dubs was kidnapped by Islamic militants and later killed during a rescue attempt by Afghan security agents.
The embassy functioned without an ambassador until it was padlocked ten years later. It had been cared for since 1989 then by Afghan U.S. employees, and was largely undamaged until it was over-run by the attacking crowd in September.