US to establish reconstruction base areas in Afghanistan


"In a significant switch in strategy, U.S. troops plan to set up bases to provide reconstruction aid in provinces plagued by Taliban attacks, the new U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Saturday in his first interview since taking charge.

"Lt. Gen. David Barno told The Associated Press that the move will make the troubled south and east safer for aid workers and open the way for landmark Afghan elections next summer. He also predicted a sharp reaction from insurgents.


"In a bid to deliver more aid to impoverished civilians, the United States and allies including Britain and New Zealand have set up nine joint civilian-military units charged with creating islands of stability across the country.

"So far, most of the so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams are in relatively secure regions. Now, the U.S. military is deploying teams across a broad swath of the country dominated by Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s largest ethnic group from which the hardline Islamic Taliban draw their main support.


"Aid groups worry that their attempts to remain independent in the eyes of Afghans, including Taliban sympathizers, has been compromised by U.S. involvement in delivering assistance.

"But Barno suggested it was time for relief groups to accept that they could not be neutral after a stream of deliberate attacks on de-miners and well-diggers, and said he hoped aid workers would return to Pashtun areas."


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