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Inside Afghanistan: A Talk with US Ambassador William Wood | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Kabul, Asharq Al-Awsat- William Wood, US ambassador to Afghanistan, expressed great satisfaction with the coalition forces’ achievements on the ground in Afghanistan in the past two years. The ambassador was speaking last week inside the new embassy compound, a few meters from the Mesud Square in the center of the Afghan capital to Asharq Al-Awsat and a group of Western journalists representing NATO. The new embassy building is more like a military fort because of the many ramparts and stepped up security measures at the entrance. As for the interior of the embassy, it is no less in value than the interior of any luxurious establishment in Europe. The embassy compound contains buildings and flats of the highest level, with a swimming pool, tennis grounds, and green lawns everywhere.

Before meeting with US Ambassador Wood, 56, talk was rampant regarding the Taliban’s threat to blow up mobile telephone networks’ poles in Afghanistan, unless the telephone companies suspend their services at night. The fundamentalist movement says in local newspapers that the US forces use telephone signals to pinpoint the locations of the rebels.

Mobile telephone companies moved to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban Movement in 2001 and spread widely in the country. Taliban Spokesman. Dhabihallah Mujahid vowed that, “If the mobile phone companies do not comply within three days, we will destroy their offices and towers.” Taliban asks the four mobile phone companies that operate in the country to stop service from 5 pm to 3 am the next morning, local time. However, the US ambassador expressed his conviction that the threat is not serious, because the fundamentalist movement too uses mobile phone networks in its communications. Wood said that 3.5 million people currently use mobile phone companies’ services and that there are four major communications companies competing against each other in the country. This mobile phone service is a burgeoning industry in Afghanistan. Under the Taliban rule, there was no single mobile phone set or a single communications company in the country, with the exception of a few telephones that were connected to satellites, however according to experts; US forces use satellite signals to locate the positions of wanted individuals and do not need the services of mobile phone companies.

In the beginning of his statement, US Ambassador Wood affirmed that the United States’ commitment in Afghanistan will not be limited to reconstruction, development, and stability. He said that the international community spent $45 billion in Afghanistan since the end of 2001 to this day, including the amount of $23 billion that the United States spent in the period from 2002 to 2007. He added that 48 percent of these funds were spent on restoring security and stability, 9 percent on fighting drugs and cultivation of heroin, and 34 percent on rebuilding and developing the infrastructure in the capital, Kabul, and other provinces. The US ambassador said that Afghanistan needs more roads as part of the reconstruction and development plans, even though the reconstruction commissions have built more than 11,000 km of roads to date. He added: We also need more universities. He noted that there are some 6 million students in primary and secondary schools in Afghanistan.

The US ambassador emphasized that “The world’s eyes are now turned toward Afghanistan. Therefore, we want Afghanistan to achieve success in peace, health, education, and reconciliation. We want a good government and want to see people from the city represented in the provincial and central governments.”

Ambassador Wood served in the US diplomacy for over 30 years during which he served in Uruguay, Argentina, El Salvador, and Italy and served as ambassador in Colombia since 2003. He said the current year in Afghanistan is the year of energy. He noted that the (Kajaki) Dam in northern Helmand, which the United States built in the 1970s, currently needs two new turbines to make up for the shortage of energy, instead of Afghanistan depending on neighboring states to supply with it electricity. The ambassador spoke about the existence of some natural gas wells in Afghan territories. He drew a parallel between Colombia where he served in the past and Afghanistan where he is now serving as representative of US diplomacy.

He said that both countries suffer from drug problems. The ambassador said that 90 percent of the cocaine that is smuggled into the United States comes from Colombia, while 90 percent of the heroin in the streets of European cities comes from Afghanistan. He noted that the Helmand Province alone produces 50 percent of the world’s output of heroin. Before 1998, Ambassador Wood served as political adviser in the US mission to the United Nations. He was a senior US negotiator at the Security Council.

US Ambassador Wood, a philosophy graduate from Bucknell University, cited examples from contemporary American history, saying that security and stability were restored to his country after years of civil war. He expressed his conviction that Afghanistan, which has suffered approximately 30 years of continuous wars since the Soviet invasion, will restore its security and stability.

In reply to a question by Asharq Al-Awsat, the US ambassador said he does not know the whereabouts of Al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden. However, he said he is convinced that Bin Laden will be arrested one day and brought to trial. Ambassador Wood spoke about the presence of Arabs, Chechen, and Uzbeks in the ranks of Taliban. He noted that the fundamentalist movement’s change of tactics and more dependence on suicide terrorist attacks partly express the movement’s despair of the weak rebellion campaign that it has been waging. The US ambassador refused to comment on coordination between US forces and Pakistan in the pursuit of the Al-Qaeda leaders in the border strip. This pursuit recently resulted in the killing of Abu al-Layth al-Libi in northern Waziristan. The ambassador replied: “Ask the Pakistani side.”