Three CENTCOM commanders offer different perspectives about Afghanistan

Florida Gulf Coast University

10501 FGCU Blvd S., Fort Myers, FL

— Afghanistan is worlds away from the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University.

So a trio of foreign military commanders visited Monday night to bridge that divide and offer some perspective on the international military presence in Afghanistan and neighboring regions.

All three men, senior national representatives of their countries at U.S. Central Command in Tampa (CENTCOM), addressed the international campaign against terrorism and the Taliban in the Middle East. CENTCOM is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As Air Commodore Richard Newlands of New Zealand explained, the international effort against terrorists in Afghanistan is part of a coalition, different from an alliance because it was not built around a defined threat. Though the coalition was formed of about 60 countries following 9/11, it was formed against the amorphous threat presented by global terrorism, including Al Qaeda operatives stretching in a web across barriers of nationality, border and language.

“Citizens from 80 countries were killed,” said Newlands. “That impact was felt around the world. We recognized globally that terrorism was a problem we all had to deal with.”

Newlands presented the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan as a multi-level operation to wipe out an aggressive threat, to build the country back up and to transition power over to the people. The operation is key to wiping out the global terror threat that has struck the U.S., Britain, Spain and beyond.

“We’ve got to gain their confidence that we are there for the long haul,” Newlands said. “The vast majority of Afghans do not want to be ruled again by the Taliban, and the polls clearly show that.”

However, Brig. Gen. Lothar Schmidt of Germany, had a slightly different view of the necessity for his country’s involvement in Afghanistan.

“Our 4,500 troops now in Afghanistan are now under a totally different mandate, which is as an assistance force,” said Schmidt. “We in Germany are quite convinced there is no military solution in Afghanistan. The final solution can only be a political one. Killing Taliban (fighters) is no solution. They grow faster than you can kill them.”

Offering yet another perspective, Brig. Gen. Zahid Mirza of Pakistan shared success stories in the fight against terrorists and Taliban operatives along his country’s 1,600-mile border with Afghanistan. However, he said, significant aid to the Taliban continues to flow across the Pakistan border into Afghanistan.

While the sentiment among the military officials gathered was almost as divided as American sentiment on the continued U.S. presence in Afghanistan, Newlands characterized the fight as one for the very vitality of the global community.

Connect with education reporter Leslie Williams Hale at naplesnews.com/staff/leslie_hale

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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