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U.S. to aid Taliban opponents

By Major Garrett
CNN White House Correspondent

(CNN) -- The Bush administration will offer aid to opponents of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban, but won't try to choose who rules the country, according to a White House memo, CNN confirmed Saturday.

"The Taliban do not represent the Afghan people, who never elected or chose the Taliban faction," a memorandum summarizing the Bush administration policy states. "We do not want to choose who rules Afghanistan, but we will assist those who seek a peaceful, economically developing Afghanistan, free of terrorism."

The document was prepared by key officials of the National Security Council and the State Department.

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The precise aim of U.S. policy in Afghanistan has been the subject of international curiosity and intense administration debate. Earlier in the week, Bush said the United States was not interested in "nation-building," an indirect suggestion that administration policy was not aimed at creating a new Afghan government that would be supported in the future by the U.S. government.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, Bush said, "The United States respects the people of Afghanistan and we are their largest provider of humanitarian aid. But we condemn the Taliban, and welcome the support of other nations in isolating that regime."

The memo says the immediate, short-term goal of the U.S. campaign is to "eradicate the terrorism that led to the strikes that killed the citizens of 78 countries on September 11." But the document, which an official said is meant to provide guidance on the direction of U.S. policy, clearly shows a preference for a new government.

That position could create problems for the United States as it deals with neighboring Pakistan, which has provided substantial support for the United States since the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Pakistan prefers a campaign directed primarily at suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network -- not one bent on replacing the Taliban, with whom Pakistan's military and intelligence forces have close ties.

The memo takes pains to establish previous U.S. support in recent years for Muslims in Kuwait and in the Balkans -- and in Afghanistan's battle against Soviet occupation. Echoing Bush's radio address, the memo says U.S. policy is aimed at terrorists in Afghanistan, not the Afghan people.

"We will support the Afghan people in the future. They deserve peace and stability, freedom from foreign terrorists and a government that represents all Afghans. We call on others to join us so we can help Afghans recover and rebuild," it states. News of the memo comes as groups opposed to the Taliban have agreed to create an allied political and military structure, according to the nation's former king.

According to a statement issued Friday by Mohammed Zahir Shah, who was deposed nearly 30 years ago, Taliban opponents have created a Supreme Council for the Salvation of Afghanistan. They have also created a "military structure with the participation of various resistance commanders and tribal elders and some professional army officers."

The announcement came after the former king met with representatives of the Northern Alliance, an anti-Taliban faction that has been battling the Taliban since the Islamic militia came to power in 1996. He also met earlier in the week with representatives of the U.S. embassy.

The Northern Alliance -- the remnants of Afghanistan's former government, still recognized by most countries and the United Nations -- controls about 10 percent of the country.


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