Coalition members weigh strengths in US-led effort

As the war aims narrow, there will be more need for roles by many countries.

With the Taliban reduced to a few tenacious remnants burrowed in mountain caves, US allies are grappling with how to contribute, as the operation shifts from aerial bombardment to ground war, intelligence gathering, and forming a post-Taliban government.

The debate over how - and how much - to contribute has sparked controversy in several countries. But this debate is also likely to shape the nature of collective security among the world's major powers as they face the amorphous enemy of terrorism.

"Al Qaeda represents a threat to international order in general, and that's not just a concern for people in lower Manhattan," says Warren Bass, Director of the Special Projects/Terrorism Program at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

But, while the US enjoys broad coalition support for its objectives, many countries face hurdles of public opinion or past history.

For the US part, a big question is whether it will break with the precedent it has set in past foreign conflicts. Its natural role in leading the assault on the Taliban may not translate well into leading the reconstruction of the battered nation.

"The key question here is, are we going to listen to our British allies, and resist the tendency to get in on the ground, and be American, and try to clean it all up?" poses James Clad, head of the South and Southeast Asian Studies Department at Georgetown University. "Once we're too deeply involved, we run into other problems."

So far, several Western allies have sent or promised military support. Most notably, British and possibly French and German forces may contribute special forces to aid the US in tracking down Osama bin Laden.

Britain deployed an advance party of 85 marines to Bagram Airbase north of Kabul, and had planned to send in more troops. But yesterday, 6,000 combat troops were taken off 48-hour standby because the situation on the ground had improved. "We are not going to deploy unless there is a clear understanding of the role and risk they face," says a British defense ministry spokesman. "It is a very fluid situation."

Australia has promised 1,550 military personnel, including 150 Special Air Service troops; Japan has contributed noncombat vessels with 440 troops and sailors; and Turkey is committing 90 special forces personnel for reconnaissance, training, and support. France has sent 58 peacekeepers and plans to commit up to 10 Mirage fighter jets. And Italy has offered combat forces, officers, and eight Tornado interdictor strike aircraft, along with transport planes.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretién has delayed sending troops after British troops received less-than-welcoming treatment from anti-Taliban troops.

For their parts, Japan and Germany - both haunted by their World War II military legacies - are facing intense internal opposition to combat.

Days after German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder fought a battle in Parliament to offer up to 3,900 soldiers, the publisher of Der Spiegel magazine chastised Mr. Schröder for blindly declaring "unlimited solidarity" without seeing Washington's battle plan.

"Germany must rethink its relations to the United States, as long as US President Bush sticks to his arrogant motto 'who isn't for us is against us,' " publisher Rudolf Augstein wrote.

Even amid the domestic opposition, German Parliament approved a one-year mandate providing a broad range of navy ships to patrol international sea lanes, air force planes for transportation, and commandos, medics, and specialist troops trained for nuclear, chemical, and biological warfare.

Japan also has adopted new legislation, to last for two years, which will allow its military to cooperate with and support the US-led war so long as troops are not sent into combat zones.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, in an interview Monday in the daily Russian paper Izvestia, also showed reluctance to get entangled in what comes next.

"I'm officially stating that Russia has no plans to participate in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan," Ivanov said. "They are trying to make us participate in military operations in Afghanistan, but they will fail," he said, not clarifying who "they" are.

Who should lead the nation-building

After weeks of air strikes that have taken innocent Afghan lives, analysts say, the US is probably not in the strongest position to lead the installation of a new Afghan government.

"The immediate military heavy lifting got done by the US, the British, and the Northern Alliance," says Dr. Bass. "The subsequent task, now that the Taliban is falling back into the hills, is that they have to create something that won't fall apart with the next Taliban crew to come along. And for that, the US can use extra hands on deck."

At a meeting in Washington last Tuesday, the US and 21 other nations agreed to dedicate funds to Afghanistan's reconstruction, at the cost of some $10 billion.

Japan, which co-chaired the meeting, is hoping to take a leading role in the formation of the new Afghan government. Already, it has pledged $120 million in refugee assistance to Afghanistan, or about 20 percent of the funds requested by UN agencies and other NGOs. It has also offered $40 million in refugee aid to Pakistan in exchange for its cooperation with the US. The package includes emergency budget assistance and debt rescheduling.

"We would like to have greater say," says Masahi Nishihara, president of the National Defense Academy.

"Japan was one of the first countries to send the humanitarian package to Pakistan, and this is very significant from our point of view," he adds. "Japan is now expecting to provide money for the humanitarian process, ... so we would like to have some say in forming the new government."

Just two weeks ago, Japan's parliament passed legislation - good for only two years - that allows for the dispatch of troops during wartime, so long as they are used in noncombat areas.

On Sunday, Japan deployed three warships under the new law - the country's first military deployment during wartime since World War II.

Earlier this month, it dispatched three reconnaisance ships to Diego Garcia, a British island in the Indian Ocean serving as a base for allied operations.

But a plan to dispatch a destroyer equipped with an advanced Aegis radar system capable of launching more than 10 airborne missiles at once was blocked by influential members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who remain wary of Japan's military involvement in the war.

Some military observers say Japan can make serious contributions to the war on terror through intelligence gathering in Southeast Asian nations in which it is a major donor and regional powerbroker.

But others doubt that Japan can have the pivotal role it desires in forming the post-Taliban government, simply because it has little experience there.

Countries with greater experience and knowledge of Afghanistan - and ones with less political baggage there than the US - could take the lead by providing assistance toward what may be the most important investment of all: squelching the return of extremists, whether from a resurgent Taliban or others.

"There was talk of an all-Islamic force - with countries such as Malaysia, Turkey, and Jordan - and I hope it hasn't totally fallen by the wayside," says Bass, of the Council on Foreign Relations. "Someone is going to have to start doing this besides the Americans. Leaving just American troops to rebuild Afghanistan over the long haul is a terrible idea." He adds: "One school of thought is to do in Afghanistan what was done in East Timor, where you have a small, lean, and mean multinational force with the blessing of the UN, but not set up by the UN."

Staff writer Peter Ford in Paris and correspondents Lucian Kim in Berlin and Fred Weir in Moscow contributed to this report.

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