- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) The U.S. government will not abandon its commitment to help rebuild Afghanistan even if forced to commit military and humanitarian resources for a war in Iraq, a top U.S. Treasury official said yesterday.
President Bush has "always stressed … a long-term commitment for reconstruction in Afghanistan," Treasury Undersecretary John Taylor said at the end of a four-day visit to the war-ravaged country.
"We recognize from the past that there are issues that are raised by people not having a commitment that is long enough," he said. "So we have learned, and we are going to be committed."
Some Afghan officials have voiced concerns that the rebuilding effort under way in Afghanistan may be neglected if the Bush administration decides to attack Iraq.
Many Afghans say the United States was quick to abandon them after pouring millions of dollars worth of aid and weapons into the country in the 1980s to help resistance fighters battle an invasion by the now-defunct Soviet Union.
International donors pledged billions of dollars for reconstruction after the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime last year, but the money has been slow to arrive. Afghans also have complained about the international community's reluctance to expand its peacekeeping mission. A 4,800-strong international force patrols the capital, but it has no presence in the rest of the country.
During his visit, Mr. Taylor met President Hamid Karzai, Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani and other senior Afghan finance and banking officials.
On Monday, Mr. Taylor traveled to western Afghanistan for talks with powerful warlord Ismail Khan, who controls an area where the United States is vying with neighboring Iran for influence. Many of the regions outside of Kabul remain under the rule of warlords, who have been reluctant to cede control to the central government.
Mr. Taylor said Mr. Khan had expressed support for Mr. Karzai's government, which is seeking to improve relations with the provincial warlords.
The undersecretary also said he was "very impressed" with the Afghan government's improvements in financial accountability. He said export taxes had been reduced and a law introduced to encourage foreign investment.
He added that a new currency, to be introduced Oct. 7, would make transactions more efficient and allow the government to control inflation. Authorities hope the new bank notes will boost economic growth and make easier small transactions that now require stacks of bills.
Mr. Taylor also trumpeted a $180 million project financed by the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia to build a road that will connect Kabul to Kandahar in the south and Herat in the west. The project is expected to begin by January and take three years to complete.

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