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Rice: World must not abandon Afghanistan

STELLARTON, Nova Scotia (CNN) -- The United States is now paying the price for having left Afghanistan on its own after Soviet forces finally left the country in the late 1980s, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday.

"The Soviet Union was defeated in Afghanistan. And then they left. And we left, too," Rice said in a news conference with Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay.

"And when we left and we left the Afghan people without any means of support, without political support, economic support, security support, Afghanistan turned into a failed state that harbored and supported Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, and we all came to pay for that," she said.

Rice said she remembers being asked by members of the 9/11 commission why she and other officials didn't do anything about Afghanistan before the September 11, 2001, terror attacks against the United States.

"Well, we didn't. In fact, we left Afghanistan to its own devices," Rice said.

"If we should have learned anything, it is if you allow that kind of vacuum, if you allow a failed state in that strategic location, you're going to pay for it," she said.

After an initial routing of the Taliban from its control of Afghanistan in a U.S.-led operation only two months after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, the Islamic militant group has recently staged a resurgence.

Last week, a U.S. military official in Afghanistan said nine of 21 districts in Ghazni province -- only about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from the Afghan capital of Kabul -- "have significant Taliban influence."

This development, which has caught the attention of the U.S. military in the past month, represents an important shift by the Taliban from their traditional strongholds in the south and east of the country. They had had little or no presence in Ghazni since the Taliban's fall in November 2001.

The official said the Taliban are moving around Ghazni province in units of 15 to 20 and will take over towns if no Afghan police units are around to stop them.

Rice acknowledged the sacrifice and hard work of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, and urged the world to think about the alternative.

"An Afghanistan that does not complete its democratic evolution and become a stable, terror-fighting state is going to come back to haunt us," she said. "It will come back to haunt our successors and their successors."

There are currently about 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, in addition to the 20,000 international troops that make up the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which is led by NATO.

A U.S. general in Afghanistan said Afghan army troops and police "are making great progress" in their training as they work to take the lead in securing their country.

"There is still a need for investment, both to enhance the capability and capacity of the security forces and also in investment to enhance the development in the country," Maj. Gen. Robert Durbin told CNN's "American Morning."

Asked about the resurgence of the Taliban and a resurgence of poppy cultivation, which had been slashed after the Taliban ouster, Durbin said U.S. troops are working hard to train Afghan forces to deny a safe haven to the Taliban and poppy growers.

"The Afghan national army, combined with the international forces that are here, are moving into those areas that previously had been sanctuaries to ensure that the role of law and sufficient security conditions are set," Durbin said.

"You will see that expansion each week, each month in the years ahead to take away those sanctuaries for the complex threat, not just Taliban, but the narco-traffickers and the poppy cultivation," he added.

A report released Tuesday by the head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said opium cultivation in Afghanistan surged 59 percent in 2006 to nearly 408,000 acres.

The harvest increased 49 percent from 2005 to 6,100 tons, the report said.

"I call on NATO forces to destroy the heroin labs, disband the open opium bazaars, attack the opium convoys and bring to justice the big traders," said Antonio Maria Costa, the head of the U.N. office, in a written statement.

"I invite coalition countries to give NATO the mandate and resources required," he added.

Only six of Afghanistan's 34 provinces are opium-free, Costa said.

CNN's Peter Bergen contributed to this report

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