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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Can't Just Hit and Run II

Americans should be encouraged that the early phases of the war against terrorism have gone relatively smoothly in Afghanistan, but some of the most important and difficult tasks in that nation now lie ahead. The Pentagon has been airlifting hundreds of U.S. Marines into southern Afghanistan in recent days, preparing for more extensive U.S. ground combat missions. Rival Afghan opposition groups meet this morning in Germany in a preliminary effort to fashion a unified government. Neither of these ventures promises quick or easy results. How they unfold will help determine whether the United States achieves its main objectives in Afghanistan.

The primary remaining military objectives are to uproot the Taliban from Kandahar, their original stronghold and last center of power, and to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his fellow terrorists. Both goals must be achieved in the ethnic Pashtun regions of southern and eastern Afghanistan where the Northern Alliance, made up largely of non-Pashtun minority groups, cannot be as useful a military partner as it was in the north. The brunt of the fighting in this phase of the war is likely to be borne by U.S. Marines.

The talks in Bonn brought together representatives of Afghanistan's two main political forces -- the Northern Alliance and exiled Pashtun opposition leaders, many of them based in Pakistan. They were joined there by two smaller groups, including one representing Afghanistan's former king. The critical challenge will be assuring that a prominent role in the next government is reserved for anti-Taliban Pashtuns, although it has been the Northern Alliance that has so far done most of the fighting and won most of the military victories.

To marginalize credible Pashtun leaders would open up Afghanistan to further conflict. No stable government will be able to establish its authority over eastern and southern Afghanistan if the country's Pashtuns feel excluded. Meanwhile, Pakistan, with millions of Pashtuns on its side of the border, has a legitimate interest in trying to protect itself from unrest at home and a hostile government next door in Kabul.

Decades of ethnic and political warfare helped turn Afghanistan into a sanctuary for terrorists. A stable, unified government must emerge from the present conflict. Washington should use its influence with the Northern Alliance and the authority gained from its own military actions in the south to make sure all groups are fairly represented.

This comment appeared as an editorial in The New York Times.