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U.S. meets with Afghan opposition

U.S. officials have met with Afghanistan’s opposition alliance in an attempt to counter the Taliban, the radical Islamic militia that rules the country. NBC’s Robert Windrem and Linda Fasulo report.
/ Source: NBC News

U.S. officials have quietly met representatives of Afghanistan’s opposition alliance, the United Front, within the last two weeks in an attempt to counter the Taliban, the radical Islamic militia that rules the country. But the U.S. government believes the alliance’s chances for success are a long shot and that Washington’s support for the movement will be limited, U.S. officials told NBC News.

THE UNITED FRONT, also known as the Northern Alliance, is led by Ahmed Shah Massud, a charismatic fighter who also fought the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The front controls only a small portion of the country’s northernmost region and regularly does battle with the more heavily armed, better trained Taliban.

Massud’s movement still holds the Afghanistan seat in the United Nations, however. All five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Russia, the United States, China, Britain and France — have refused to go along with the Taliban’s claims of legitimacy and have kept the militia from claiming Afghanistan’s seat.

The Taliban, which took control of Kabul in 1996, has forced its harsh brand of Islam on the country of 25 million. The international community and human rights organizations have condemned the Islamic government for gross human rights abuses.

The United States has accused the Taliban of harboring Osama bin Laden, America’s No. 1 terrorism suspect, and with Russia has led an effort to impose sanctions on Afghanistan. But none of the five permanent members of the Security Council is willing, at least overtly, to provide much in the way of arms to the Taliban’s opposition.


Abdullah Abdullah, the United Front’s foreign minister, met in Washington with State Department officials on July 13, and then with the National Security Council and Congress, in an attempt to win backing for the alliance’s struggle against the Taliban. Among those the Afghans met with were Richard Haass, the assistant secretary of state for policy planning; Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations officer who is now assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs; Zalmay Khalilzad, assistant to the president for South Asian and Gulf affairs; and Sen. Arlen Spector, R-Pa.

A State Department official confirmed the meetings. “It was a normal visit, to show the flag and keep in touch,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. However, the July 13 visit was the second time the United Front visited Washington in the last six months, and more meetings with U.S. officials are planned for September, a State Department source said.

Officials in the Afghan delegation described the Bush administration as having a “much more sympathetic ear” than the Clinton administration. “We want moral support,” said one member of the Afghan delegation who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We are looking for humanitarian and financial assistance.”


The Afghan opposition also wants the United States to put pressure on Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the region, but also one of the few governments that recognizes the Taliban as Afghanistan’s legitimate leadership.

“Pressure on Pakistan to end its support of the Taliban is central to controlling the export of terrorism,” Abdullah told NBC News in an interview. He said the Taliban even works with Pakistani intelligence.

The Afghan delegation said it had told U.S. officials of the presence of 40 Taliban-sanctioned “terrorist training camps” in Afghanistan, including three large ones in Rishkor, Charasyab and Qargha — all within 10 miles of the capital, Kabul. Arab militants and Pakistanis, primarily Kashmiri rebels, are trained at all three, delegations members said.

Taliban officials were unavailable for comment, but a source in Afghanistan confirmed that the Taliban maintains military camps in the three cities.


U.S. officials have described the relationship between Pakistan’s Intern Service Intelligence Directorate and the Taliban as “a crazy soup.” These officials say the directorate contracts with bin Laden and the Taliban to train pro-Pakistani rebels fighting in the mostly Muslim Indian provinces of Jammu and Kashmir. One official said that most of the terrorists killed during the U.S. cruise missile attacks on Afghan camps in August 1998 were Kashmiri rebels. The United States attacked the camps in retaliation for the bin Laden-inspired terrorist attack on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 227 people.

InsertArt(1114524)Despite the United Front’s willingness to provide intelligence to Washington, American officials do not believe the front is going to get much in the way of help from the U.S. government, which spent $3 billion in the 1980s backing mujahideen fighters that ousted Soviet troops from Afghanistan. A recent State Department report on terrorism cited these mujahideen “alumni” as a threat to the United States today.


The United Front’s chances of success are “a very long shot, indeed, barring an uprising,” said one U.S. official. He said the front does have some credibility, “as much as anyone in that region ... which isn’t saying much.” But there is not a lot of interest in helping it at the level it would like, said the official.

Still, United Front representatives told NBC News that they will be back in two months for another round of talks in Washington.

Robert Windrem is an investigative producer for NBC News. Linda Fasulo covers the United Nations for NBC News.