Could America Still Lose in Afghanistan?

But, he says, "A lot has been invested to get Afghanistan to where it is now, and we're concerned that attention is going to move elsewhere."

"Look at it right now," says Larry P. Goodson, author of Afghanistan's Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics and the Rise of the Taliban, who last was in Afghanistan to observe the loya jirga in June. "You don't have Americans sitting there going, 'I wonder how those Afghan children are doing.' It's not on anybody's radar recently."

Worry Over Signals

In April, President Bush vowed America would lead a "moral victory" in Afghanistan by rebuilding the country in the tradition of the post-World War II Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe.

But Azoy, last in Afghanistan in April, worries President Bush's appointment this month of Zalmay Khalilzad, his special envoy for Afghanistan, to the new title of special envoy and ambassador at large for free Iraqis, may be a "perfect symbol" of U.S. officials' changing focus.

For the White House's part, it said Khalilzad would remain the Afghanistan envoy, shed another title and set of duties, and continue to "ensure that the United States' commitment to working in partnership with the Afghan government remains firm and resolute."

And Karzai told The Associated Press recently, "The indications I have so far from the United States and from countries in Europe suggest that Afghanistan will not be receiving less help, less attention."

However, Goodson, director of Middle East studies at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., fears some military support resources already may be getting diverted, though it is a fluid situation and difficult to prove.

The media's interest also seems to have shifted. Last week, as reporters clamored to hear Secretary of State Colin Powell call omissions from Iraq's weapons report a "material breach" of United Nations resolutions, only about a dozen people attended the Defense Department's year-end briefing on Afghan reconstruction.

‘Good News’

But Joe Collins, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for stability operations, told reporters at the briefing that America's commitment to Afghanistan is not flagging.

Afghanistan's story over the past year, he said, is full of "a lot of good news" that has brought hope to a country ranked as one of the world's least livable by a United Nations index in 1996 — even before it endured years of drought and Taliban rule.

The United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on Afghanistan's recovery, Collins said, and expects to have spent $900 million by the end of 2003.

He said American economic and hands-on efforts already have helped build hundreds of schools and water wells, and dozens of medical clinics. America also has coordinated with the ISAF force in Kabul, trained and deployed the first soldiers in a multi-ethnic Afghan national army, continued to battle handfuls of remaining Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, and helped make safer large swatches of the country, he said.

"We now believe that about 26 provinces of the 33 in Afghanistan have moderate to good security," he added.

The United States soon plans to deploy 10 to 12 "joint regional teams" — whose 60-or-so members will include special forces soldiers, diplomats, technical experts, American governmental aid workers and foreign representatives — to help further stabilize outlying regions.

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