- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday that he will open a conference this month on the way forward in Afghanistan with the message that any military surge must be accompanied by “a political surge.”

The Netherlands government said it will host the one-day ministerialmeeting in The Hague on March 31 and invite Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Iran, as well as the United States and other nations contributing to military operations and reconstruction efforts in the war-shattered country. Aid donors and international organizations are also being invited.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed the meeting earlier this month, as President Barack Obama’s administration formulates its strategy in Afghanistan.

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Ban told a news conference that “Afghanistan is at another crossroads” with presidential elections scheduled for Aug. 20 and the security situation continuing to deteriorate.

The war against Taliban rule in Afghanistan seemed won when a U.S.-led invasion ousted the Islamist regime in 2001. But the militant movement has regained control of large swathes of the country, U.S. and NATO forces have been unable to reverse the gains, and the outlook appears increasingly bleak.

Last month, Obama ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan to bolster the record 38,000 American forces already there.

“This conference offers an opportunity to define a common way forward,” Ban said. “Afghanistan is still going through a very fragile and volatile situation in terms of security and their domestic politics. Therefore we need to address all these issues from a comprehensive perspective.”

The secretary-general said that when he met Obama at the White House on Tuesday he commended “his new and fresh look” at Afghanistan and said “strengthening military capacity will be absolutely necessary” to improve security.

“But any military surge, I emphasized to President Obama, must be accompanied by a political surge,” he said.

“This political surge can be done by President (Hamid) Karzai and his government in engaging themselves with many other leaders both in the government and the opposition,” he said. “And also by the international community’s helping the Afghanistan government to strengthen and improve their relationship with neighboring countries.”

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