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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Looks for Support in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. administration is backing efforts to build an internal coalition in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden and his Taliban supporters. The coalition could collect crucial intelligence, provide political support and cooperate militarily in the war on terrorism.

The United States has stepped up contacts with the Northern Alliance, a coalition that has been fighting the Taliban.

Recognizing the complex ethnic mix in Afghanistan, the United States has also initiated contacts with the Pashtuns, the dominant tribe in the south.

Enormous attention has been given to the need to build an external coalition involving nations like Britain, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and others in the region. Britain, for instance, is expected to join the military operation.

Forging an internal coalition of ethnic groups that could increase the pressure on the Taliban government is just as crucial, though complex.

One reason for the effort is military. The United States needs allies inside Afghanistan who can help track bin Laden and those Taliban leaders who shelter him, and can provide information on possible targets of attack, as well as a possible base of operations in the country for U.S. forces. They could also do some of the fighting.

There are key political reasons as well to build a coalition inside Afghanistan. The United States is trying to counter the impression that the fight against bin Laden is a war against Afghanistan or Islam.

Administration officials also want to encourage the formation of a coalition that could govern Afghanistan after a war and bring some order to the region. The last thing Washington wants is a chaotic situation, which could create a haven for terrorists and destabilize neighboring Pakistan.

On Sunday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated that the United States was trying to encourage defections within the Taliban's ranks, and that the defectors could become part of a new governing structure for Afghanistan.

"Some of the Taliban say, 'Well, it could get uncomfortable supporting those people, so I think I'll shift sides,'" Rumsfeld said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Efforts to form a grand coalition involve the 86-year-old former king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who lives in Rome and has been meeting with representatives of the Northern Alliance. The exiled king is a Durrani Pashtun, like the Taliban leaders. There has speculation that he could serve as the symbolic head of a broad group that would include other Afghans who are not Pashtuns.

There are, however, many obstacles to the effort to form a grand coalition, including tensions among the ethnic groups.

John Moore, who until last year was the chief Middle East analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said: "People have talked about this as a great alliance, but that's going to be subject to fractious politics. This is not going to be an easy or quick process."

Mohammad Eshaq, the Washington representative of the Northern Alliance, said there had been intense contacts with George W. Bush's administration. The Bush administration plans to offer financial help, but Eshaq said it had not yet done so.

Nonetheless, the Pentagon seems to be counting on their help. Rumsfeld has talked openly about a military collaboration with the alliance.

"These folks, they know the lay of the land," Rumsfeld said Friday, referring to the Northern Alliance. "They know, in some cases, some targets that are useful. They have ideas about how to deal with the Taliban. I think that one has to say that they can be useful in a variety of ways."

There was concern within the Bush administration that Rumsfeld's comments could complicate Washington's dealings with other factions, including the Pashtun group, which is the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan and which has close ties to Pakistan. So on Sunday, Rumsfeld made the point that opponents of bin Laden might also include "tribes in the south."