New Focus in Afghanistan
Army Times/AP: Afghanistan focus shifts toward reconstruction
The U.S. military inaugurated a project on Thursday that is supposed to speed reconstruction and win over skeptical Afghans in a former al-Qaida stronghold that is still on the front line of AmericaÃ¢€™s war on terrorism.
Military and Afghan officials cut a ribbon across the entrance to the office of the Khost provincial reconstruction team, the 12th of its kind and a symbol of AmericaÃ¢€™s changing strategy in the face of a stubborn Taliban-led insurgency.
Ã¢€œCombat has been necessary in the past to defeat the terrorist threat, which is our common enemy,Ã¢€ Maj. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the U.S. second-in-command in Afghanistan, told dozens of Afghan elders and officials at the ceremony.
Ã¢€œBut our concern now is the future. Our emphasis must remain on setting the conditions for reconstruction and development,Ã¢€ Austin said.
Commanders claim that Taliban and al-Qaida holdouts are now so weakened that they can be finished off by bringing long-delayed relief and reconstruction aid to their former strongholds in the south and east.
Yet attacks on aid workers and military targets continue, and the number of mainly U.S. soldiers here has risen some 2,000 Ã¢€” to 13,500 in all Ã¢€” in recent months as the military seeks to capture al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
I suppose safety is relative in a place like Afghanistan. The primary focus has to shift at some point. From all indications, things are much calmer there than in Iraq, where the primary focus sifted from combat operations to reconstruction almost a year ago.