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US Senator Biden Assesses Afghanistan's Needs - 2002-01-13

The head of the powerful U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, is in Afghanistan to assess the needs of the new interim government and to pledge U.S. support of efforts to rebuild the country. The senator sees the need for more security and money to keep the administration credible to the Afghan people.

On the second day of his three-day visit to Kabul, the Democrat senator from Delaware says he held talks with interim government chairman Hamid Karzai and several cabinet ministers Saturday about what is needed to rebuild a land shattered by 23 years of war.

Mr. Biden says that he repeated the United States's commitment to Afghanistan's reconstruction process. He says it is in the interest of the United States to assist the country financially and economically to keep Afghanistan from reverting back its previous role as a haven for terrorists.

Mr. Biden says the interim government needs an immediate injection of money so that it can begin to provide for the basic needs of Afghans. Otherwise, he believes the government could lose credibility and will not stay in power for long.

"This government's ability to sustain itself, in my view, is in direct portion to how soon it is able to distribute to the governors benefits from the central government," said Mr. Biden. "If this is the font from which support flows, even if it is a trickle, it enhances, I think exponentially, the prospect of this government to be able to be sustained."

Senator Biden adds that in addition to the $20 million in aid pledged by the international community some U.S. lawmakers are now trying to raise up to $100 million in emergency fund for Afghanistan by tapping into the frozen assets of the Taleban.

With regard to security, Mr. Biden says there is a consensus in the interim government to have a multi-national security force present in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan as soon as possible. The senator says he personally envisions a force that has more firepower and is authorized to act more independently than what is allowed under U.N. peacekeeping rules. "Let's make it clear," stressed Mr. Biden. "I am not talking about peacekeepers. I'm not talking about blue helmets. I'm talking about people who shoot to kill people. I'm talking about a bunch of people who are bad-asses who will come in here with guns and understand that they don't have to check with anybody before they return fire. Quite frankly, absent that, I for one, don't see any shot for this country in the near term."

Lawlessness has been on the rise throughout Afghanistan since Northern Alliance forces defeated the Taleban two months ago. More than a 1,000 British troops are in Kabul right now assisting Afghan security forces. About 1,000 German soldiers are also scheduled to be deployed soon.

But Mr. Biden clearly believes more must be done to enhance security. He says he is concerned about the destructive impact that lingering insecurity will have as the country moves toward democratic rule.