The administration is adopting a new tactic in Afghanistan, reflecting a determination to end one of its last proxy wars against the Soviet Union.
Officials and experts say the United States has shifted support away from the exiled Afghan political leadership in Pakistan to the rebel commanders inside Afghanistan who are fighting the Soviet-armed government.U.S. officials hope the rebel commanders can break the stalemate in the fighting and clear the way to a peace agreement with Moscow and its surrogate government in Kabul.
The rebels, armed by the United States and Saudi Arabia, have failed to fulfill predictions they would defeat the Kabul government after it lost the support of the Soviet troops, who invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and went home 20 months ago.
But the commanders recently set up a new council, and earlier this month 40 commanders from around Afghanistan met to coordinate an offensive against provincial capitals.
"For the first time since the Soviets withdrew, the mujahedeen (Islamic holy warriors) are pulling together," said one U.S. official.
Both the United States and the Soviet Union want out of Afghanistan, just as they are trying to extricate themselves from supporting rival factions in the protracted civil wars in Cambodia and Angola.
"The United States has made a decision at the highest levels that we make a deal with the Soviets and get out," said Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert at Columbia University.
Soviet and U.S. officials say they are near agreement on Afghanistan but they still differ over what role, if any, Soviet-installed President Najib will play in an interim government.