Afghanistan rebels could prove to be a valuable ally of the U.S.

Watch the FOX News Channel and you will hear pundits like Sen. Zell Miller, D-Ga., proclaim that the United States needs to bomb Afghanistan, civilians be damned. Thankfully, others are discussing more responsible options.

However, sending in ground troops and carrying out blunt bombing are the options most frequently discussed. Neither option is sure to bring those responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks to justice, but both guarantee the U.S. involvement in this conflict to the point of no return. This may satisfy many by creating the impression that we will not stand for any attack on America, but it will do little to ensure that this does not occur again.

The United States needs to act for the long term, addressing the problem in Afghanistan, – the Taliban, – and the foreign policy decisions that have aided its rise to power. There is a group already fighting the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, and if the United States were to fund it we could avoid direct confrontation while diffusing some tension in Afghanistan.

The United States has entertained this idea, but those wielding the most influence seem tepid on the proposal. However, looking at the perils of the other options, funding the Northern Alliance seems less of an option than the only reasonable course of action.

To bomb Afghanistan would be to bomb a people that does not support, and is in fact being oppressed by those responsible for the terrorist actions being addressed. President Bush has said that the United States will make no distinction between terrorists and those harboring them, but one would hope that the United States will differentiate between terrorists and innocent people.

Action with ground troops would allow more selective attacks than blunt bombing, but it carries its own perils. On Saturday, a Senior Iranian cleric effectively said that Muslims would not stand to see any Muslim nation attacked. Any direct attack on Afghanistan could result in World War III: Muslim nations against NATO. Even John Ashcroft, an unlikely dissenter in the Bush cabinet, has voiced concern that retaliation would simply open the United States to more terrorism.

The Taliban shows no signs of weakening in its resolve to harbor the suspects that the United States demands, so any action in accordance with international law seems out of the question. The United States has never followed international law, anyway. But that is another story.

So we are left with the Northern Alliance.

The group, which now actually controls 5 percent of Afghanistan, has taken new ground even in the weeks since the attacks. Russia, India and Iran are all considering pledging aid to the Northern Alliance.

Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman of California advocates assisting the Northern Alliance.

“”These forces have fought the Taliban to a standstill without American help,”” Sherman said. “”With our help, they could march on the ruling Afghani leaders in Kabul.””

Sherman is a member of the House International Relations Committee.

A move to sponsor a foreign military would not be unprecedented. The United States has funded and trained the Israeli armed forces since the state was formed. Ironically, that action has certainly contributed to the prevalence of anti-United States sentiment in the Middle East, even though the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks were not a direct reaction.

After the Taliban came to power in 1996, militant resistance groups began to form. Admittedly, there has hardly been a period in post-Soviet Afghani history where rebel groups, Islamic or otherwise, have not been active.

But at the current point in time, the lines are somewhat clear. The Taliban has no mandate from the people. Civil war is continuous, but with U.S. support, a resolution could be near.

U.S. sanctions on Afghanistan have done little to help its cause. This only hurts the general population of Afghanistan, already in poverty and susceptible to anti-United States propaganda from the Taliban.

Pledging support to the Northern Alliance would swing at least some favorable public opinion toward the United States.

Of course, the ruling Islamic powers in the area would object, but it is unlikely that tension would escalate to a point where it would surely erupt, like it would if the United States were to launch an attack. The United States has a unique opportunity to protect itself and set the wheels in motion for a necessary revolution in Afghanistan.

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