U.S. Worries Afghan Forces Will Divide Along Ethnic Lines

The American combat mission in Afghanistan will end in 2014. One concern for U.S. officials is the possibility that Afghan security forces will splinter along ethnic lines. The worry then is that those troops will start taking orders from warlords.

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And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

When the American combat mission in Afghanistan ends next year, one concern for U.S. officials is the possibility that the Afghan security forces will then splinter along ethnic lines, and the warlords of the past will reemerge.

From Kandahar, here's NPR's Tom Bowman.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Senior Afghan officials are increasingly stockpiling weapons and putting their ethnic brethren in key positions. One possibility? Because if the Afghan forces can't hold against the Taliban when the Americans leave, they'll step in with their fighters.

American intelligence reports say those stockpiling weapons include Ismail Khan, a onetime warlord and current minister of energy and water, and Bismillah Khan Mohammadi, the defense minister. Both men are ethnic Tajiks who fought with the Northern Alliance in 2001 against the Taliban, largely ethnic Pashtun.

Major General Ahmed Rauoffi, a former Kandahar governor, says the weapons stockpiling goes beyond concerns about the Taliban's strength. There's also a political element.

MAJOR GENERAL AHMED RAUOFFI: The Pashtuns don't trust the Tajiks, Tajiks don't trust the Pashtuns and there's deep mistrust in our security and institutions.

BOWMAN: Last fall, Ismail Khan gathered thousands of his fighters and told them to get ready to defend the country. President Hamid Karzai's spokesman called it an illegal challenge to the government.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Bismillah Khan Mohammadi denied, through a spokesman, that he was either stockpiling arms or putting loyalists in key positions. Still, one senior U.S. official tells NPR, we're watching this all very closely.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.

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