NATO Working to Rebuild Afghanistan

DEH HASSAN, Afghanistan (AP) -- The girl flashed a shy smile from under her white head scarf and stepped to the front of the class when the headmaster asked who could find Afghanistan on the map of the world.

After a little hesitation, 11-year-old Pashtun pointed to her homeland, making a successful start to her first day at school.

Pashtun - a common first name in ethnic Pashtun areas - and her classmates are the face of Afghanistan that NATO wants the world to see. It's a stark contrast to the surge in violence that made last year the bloodiest since the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban in late 2001.

German and Scandinavian troops provided security and German aid workers supplied the funds to build the new yellow-and-white schoolhouse for 600 girls from Deh Hassan and nearby villages.

Development projects like this school complement NATO's combat and security operations in Afghanistan, an attempt to win the hearts and minds of Afghans and show them that the alliance is committed to helping the government. Under the Taliban regime, it was a crime to teach females.

Der Hassan, a village of camel herders and almond farmers, sits in a strip of desert separating the mountains of central Afghanistan from the northern border with Uzbekistan.

NATO troops are welcome in this region far from the southern battlefields.

"It's all calm and serene here," says district Governor Alhaj Sayed Abrar. "Each step NATO takes for the reconstruction of the country is positive."

Over a lunch of palao rice, lamb and the famed local pomegranates, Abrar heaped praise on the German troops and development officials. He blamed the continued violence on foreign militants mainly from Pakistan who exploit the Islamic conservatism of Afghan southerners to whip up extremism.

However, just 75 miles east of Deh Hassan, German army commanders in the city of Kunduz say their previously calm sector has seen a spate of attacks since last summer. The German government has reinforced the mission by sending in paratroopers.

"There's hardly any week, any day, when there is not a rocket attack," said Lt. Col. Dietmar Jeserich.

Underscoring the complexity of their task, NATO commanders are unsure if the attacks are coming from Taliban who have infiltrated the region or drug runners eager to maintain lawlessness on a key route into Central Asia.

Germany has 3,200 troops in Afghanistan, mostly in the north - a small percentage of the roughly 42,000 NATO troops in the country. The refusal of key European allies such as Germany, Italy and Spain to send forces to join the British, Americans, Canadians and Dutch who are leading the fight in the south has led to months of ugly infighting within NATO.

The demands for more troops are expected to resume when President Bush joins the other allied leaders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a NATO summit next month in Bucharest, Romania.

An expected announcement that France will send up to hundreds of extra combat troops will partly meet the need. However, it's not yet clear whether the French soldiers will be sent to the south in response to Canada's threat to pull out of dangerous Kandahar province unless NATO finds 1,000 reinforcements for its beleaguered troops there.

NATO diplomats hope the leaders will agree that their soldiers have to be both "warriors and well diggers" in Afghanistan - fighting to achieve security, then following up with speedy development to win over the local population.

To do that, they will need more money as well as more troops. NATO's top commander, U.S. Gen. John Craddock, says American forces in eastern Afghanistan have made great strides undermining the Taliban threat in their region through generous development handouts.

"If you go to the east ... you see all these paved roads and you see logging trucks moving back and forth and new fields of fruit trees so the farmers can get the produce back and forth," Craddock told reporters in Kabul.

"In some parts of this country more than others, a little money goes a long way - you can buy a lot of projects," Craddock said. The school in Deh Hassan cost the German government $67,000, he noted, "the cost of a reasonably low-cost luxury car in Europe."

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