Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Bush administration will ask Congress for $10.6 billion next month for Afghanistan’s reconstruction and to beef up the country’s security forces to counter recent Taliban gains, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.

The unusually large figure — the United States has given Afghanistan $14.2 billion in aid since 2001 — is an indication that the administration views the difficulties facing President Hamid Karzai’s government as extremely serious, U.S. officials said.

In addition, the Pentagon announced yesterday that it would extend the tours of 3,200 soldiers in Afghanistan. The troops from the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, were expecting to complete a one-year deployment next month, but their tour of duty had been extended by up to 120 days.

The extension means there will be about 2,500 more soldiers in Afghanistan than planned for the next few months.

“The challenges of the last several months have demonstrated that we want to and we should redouble our efforts,” Miss Rice said as she flew last night to Brussels, where she will urge fellow NATO members today to follow Washington’s lead and increase their financial assistance.

She said $8.6 billion would be used for training and equipping Afghan police and security forces. The money would also help to increase the Afghan army by 70,000 soldiers and police forces by 82,000, a senior U.S. official said.

The remaining $2 billion would go to building roads, an electricity grid and other infrastructure, as well as counternarcotics operations, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The administration will submit the request as a supplemental to this year’s budget, but the funds would be disbursed over the next two years, officials said.

They said the White House had realized that an “adjustment in strategy” was urgently needed if Afghanistan was going to be the success the United States wants it to be, and a broad interagency review was conducted in the past several months.

“There was a feeling that we were incrementally making progress, but that, given the kind of insurgency threat we faced last year, maybe that wasn’t enough, that what we needed to do was make significant progress across the board,” Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, said yesterday in Brussels.

Mr. Boucher said the “significant funding,” a decision to keep more troops in Afghanistan, as well as other steps by the United States and NATO were meant to disrupt Taliban’s plans for the winter.

About 4,000 people were killed in insurgency fighting last year, and U.S. officials have said there were nearly 140 suicide attacks, up from 27 in 2005.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates visited Afghanistan last week, but officials said the administration delayed the new funds pledge until Miss Rice’s meeting at NATO in order to “make a political point.”

“We’re looking for others to step up their effort with us, step it up across the board,” Mr. Boucher said.

About 33,000 troops from 37 countries under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force are currently deployed in Afghanistan.

The Bush administration has been criticized that it stopped paying enough attention to the country after toppling the Taliban in 2001, and particularly since the war in Iraq began nearly four years ago.

A senior U.S. official said yesterday the administration wanted to show to its European allies that “it’s not all about Iraq, all the time.”

NATO defense ministers are expected to discuss the alliance’s operation in Afghanistan at a meeting in Spain next month.

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