#1702 Jan 26, 2007
White House Seeks 10.6 Billion for Afghanistan
By ANNE GEARAN, AP Diplomatic Writer
The Bush administration plans to ask Congress for $10.6 billion for
Afghanistan, a major increase aimed at rebuilding the country and
strengthening government security forces still fighting the Taliban
five years after the U.S.-led invasion.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said all but $2 billion of the
money is for security needs. She detailed the plan as she prepared to
attend a NATO gathering meant to plan for an expected Taliban military
offensive in the spring.
Among other issues Rice planned to raise Friday with her NATO
colleagues were the divisions within the alliance on sharing the
burden in Afghanistan. Some NATO countries have shown a greater
willingness than others to send troops to areas of conflict.
The administration funding proposal follows a year in which Taliban
forces launched surprisingly fierce attacks across the country, poppy
production expanded and relations worsened between Afghanistan and
Pakistan, a key ally in the fight against global terrorism.
"The challenges of the last several months have demonstrated that we
want to and we should redouble our efforts," Rice told reporters
flying with her to Brussels for the NATO sessions.
The U.S. aid package would fund training and equipment for about
70,000 new Afghan army soldiers and 82,000 national police, among
other uses, a State Department official said. The official spoke on
condition of anonymity because President Bush will make a formal
budget request next month.
The United States wants to strengthen the democratic government of
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has struggled to extend political
control throughout his country and quarreled with Pakistani President
General Pervez Musharraf.
The new U.S. money would be on top of $14.2 billion in aid the United
States has already given to Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led
invasion that toppled the Taliban government.
Rice said that of the total, $8.6 billion would be for training and
equipping Afghan police and security forces, and $2 billion would be
for reconstruction. The money would be spent over the next two years.
The aid proposal comes alongside a move toward increasing the number
of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The Defense Department has said that 3,200 soldiers from the New
York-based 10th Mountain Division already in Afghanistan would have
their tour extended by four months. In a visit to Afghanistan last
week, new Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated he is likely to ask
Bush for more troops for the country.
There are about 24,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the highest number
since the war began in October 2001. About half are under the control
of NATO, which is gradually gaining more control over operations there.
The NATO-led force is about 20 percent short of the troops levels
pledged by its contributing nations.
Casualties in Afghanistan have risen sharply in recent months as an
emboldened Taliban widened military operations and suicide attacks.
Some 4,000 people died in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan
last year, according to numbers from Afghan, U.S. and NATO officials.
A springtime push caught international forces somewhat off guard last
year, but the Taliban movement has not been able to translate military
gains into a resurgent political force like the one that imposed harsh
Islamic law on Afghanistan in the 1990s.
Some of the U.S. money will go to expand drug-fighting efforts.
Officials in the Afghan capital of Kabul said this week that despite
pressure from the United States and a record crop last year, the
country's heroin-producing poppies will not be sprayed with herbicide.
Afghan officials said there would be increased efforts to destroy
poppy crops with traditional techniques _ typically sending teams of
laborers into fields to batter down or plow in the plants before they
can be harvested.
Fueled by the Taliban, a powerful drug mafia and the need for a
profitable crop that can overcome drought, opium production from
poppies in Afghanistan last year rose 49 percent to 6,700 tons. That's
enough to make about 670 tons of heroin, or more than 90 percent of
the world's supply and more than the amount that the world's addicts
consume in a year.