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by Stephen Leahy

Al Qaeda: The Next Generation

(IPS) -- Washington's attempts to bring security to Iraq and Afghanistan are not only making life harder for local people, they are breeding more terrorists, warn international security experts.

Under its anti-terrorism agenda, the U.S. has centralized power and security in post-conflict Iraq and Afghanistan, which ironically creates perfect conditions for terrorists and criminals.

"There is a great fear that unstable states and post-war societies provide an ideal breeding ground for terrorist training and activity," said Albrecht Schnabel, a senior fellow with the Research Program on Human Security in Bern, Switzerland.

"Yet almost three years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is characterized by chaos, violence and disintegration. The methods used to rebuild Iraq's security sector are simply making matters worse," he told IPS.

Schnabel is co-editor of a new book, "Security Sector Reform and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding," published by United Nations University press and written by an international group of academics and military commanders who examine the record and challenges of security sector reform in post-conflict societies.

"Instead of stabilizing places like Iraq, international efforts to centralize power are creating a more fragile security environment than ever before," Schnabel said.

The United States is avoiding widely recognized peace-building processes that involve external military powers quickly creating a basic security environment and then allowing domestic peace- and nation-building efforts to succeed.

It takes several years to develop reliable internal security institutions that have the support of the population, as was achieved in Bosnia and East Timor, Schnabel acknowledged.

"It's a difficult transition and countries and their people are vulnerable to terrorism and exploitation," he said, adding however, that by putting its own domestic security interests first, the U.S. has created a lose-lose situation.

"The overall objective of external military forces in post-conflict societies is to eliminate violence in the society," said David Carment, director of the Center for Security and Defense Studies at Canada's Carleton University.

"The U.S. focus in Afghanistan is to eliminate terrorists and their bases," Carment, who did not contribute to the book, said in an interview. That different focus can compromise efforts by international participants to bring peace, he said.

The recent U.S. tactic of rearming some warlords in parts of Afghanistan and using them to fight the Taliban has angered rival warlords who had turned in their weapons under a UN-sponsored disarmament program in 2003 and 2004.

"You can't build a nation by supporting warlords," said Schnabel.

Carment calls recent U.S.-led efforts to target Afghanistan's opium trade "simplistic" and predicted that violence in the region will escalate and hurt local people. "It will take a minimum of five to 10 years before there will be any signs of stability across Afghanistan," he said.

Schnabel estimates that full democracy is at least 20 years in the future.

Meanwhile, the time frame for stability in Iraq is an open question.

What has happened in Iraq over the past three years violates many of the recommendations in the book, which draw on experiences in the post-conflict environments of Macedonia, Bosnia, Russia, Georgia, Northern Ireland, El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia, Chile, Haiti and on the African continent.

"Internal forces must be put under democratic control, restructured and retrained to become an asset, not a liability, in the long-term peace-building process," the authors state.

"Security sector reform efforts are only successful when external actors are able and willing to stay the course and support an irrevocable process towards security consolidation and security sector reform, and where national and local authorities are committed and able to sustain such progress once external actors retreat."

"We weren't trying to pick on the U.S. here," said Schnabel. "But they did overestimate the difficulty of the peace-building process and optimistically hoped for the best."

A UN-led effort early on in Iraq might have made a big difference, he said. Security and peace-building efforts would have had more legitimacy and civil society would have played a much larger role.

"It would have been better and safer for the Iraqi people," Schnabel said. "The U.S. effort may have been well-intended, but the UN can do a lot more to bring real democracy to a region."

What is clear from Iraq is that armed interventions are extremely costly, said Carment. It is much cheaper to prevent conflicts or collapse of countries in the first place.

"I think Iraq will be the last big military intervention," he said.

Washington is already shifting its strategy toward peace-building efforts elsewhere, such as having military doctors help cope with the AIDS crisis in South Africa and creating small-scale special forces support operations in the Philippines, he says.

The U.S. military is also working with USAID and NGOs in Africa and central Asia to bring development assistance.

"Done well, this can improve security for the long term for a small investment of money," Carment said.

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Albion Monitor   February 2, 2006   (

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