With the war against the Taleban nearing its end, a former U.S. envoy to the Middle East says the difficult work of rebuilding Afghanistan is ahead. The diplomat says international cooperation in this task is just as important as it has been in ousting the Taleban.
Barbara Bodine was serving as U.S. ambassador to Yemen in October last year when suicide bombers attacked the USS Cole. She was deputy-chief of the U.S. mission in Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion in 1990, and later helped coordinate the anti-terrorism office in the State Department. She is now diplomat in residence at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Ms. Bodine spoke with reporters in Los Angeles at a State Department briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan. "This two-month war has been extremely difficult, and obviously the casualties have been high. But compared to the question of how to put Afghanistan back together again, that's not a two-month issue. We're talking two years, 20 years."
Ms. Bodine says the rebuilding is now beginning. She is pleased with the inclusion of two women in the interim administration for Afghanistan. The former ambassador views their part in the provisional government as a positive sign that Afghanistan's new leaders will restore the rights of women, whose activities were severely restricted under the Taleban.
She says international cooperation is essential in the rebuilding effort, and in the ongoing war on terrorism. Ms. Bodine says evidence suggests that Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network was behind last year's attack on the U.S. destroyer Cole in the port of Aden. The blast killed 17 American sailors and injured dozens of others.
Ms. Bodine says, however, that no firm connection to al-Qaida has yet been established. She says Yemen, like the United States, has been an unwilling and unwitting host to terrorist cells. "Yemen is a victim of terrorism, not a perpetrator of it, not a supporter of it," she said. "There are undoubtedly supporters in Yemen. There are al-Qaida supporters in Hamburg and Detroit, and any number of places around the world."
Press reports have cited U.S. investigators who complain of a lack of cooperation by Yemeni security officers in the probe of the Cole bombing. The former ambassador says Yemeni cooperation with U.S. intelligence was good before September 11. She says it has been even better since then.
Ms. Bodine says the war on terrorism will continue after the fighting is finished in Afghanistan, but that tactics will be decided on a country-by-country basis. She said, "The issue is not whether or not the war on terrorism will go elsewhere after Afghanistan. The real question is how. The [U.S.] Special Forces and U.S. Marines are not the only tool. They're not the only avenue towards addressing the problem and, in many cases, they may not be the most effective."
Ms. Bodine says other tools for reaching terrorist targets are diplomatic and economic, and different approaches are needed in different places.
The former ambassador says, even if the core of the al-Qaida network is dismantled in Afghanistan, the question remains how effectively its cells in other countries could operate. What is not known, she says, is how dependent the network is on money and technical help from its center.