President George W. Bush plans to ask Congress for $10.6 billion in aid for Afghanistan, primarily to beef up the country's security forces, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in advance a meeting of NATO foreign ministers Friday.
The aid request includes $8.6 billion for training and equipping Afghan security forces. The money would go toward increasing the size of Afghanistan's national army by 70,000 and its local police forces by 82,000, said a senior U.S. official familiar with the issue.
The NATO-led force remains about 15 percent short of the troop and equipment levels pledged by its contributing nations.
"To achieve results, the international community needs to provide both the necessary military and the civilian resources," NATO's secretary general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, said as he opened the meeting, news agencies reported. Several countries made "clear commitments" to boost reconstruction and development assistance, he said, without giving specifics. The European Union's executive office said it was proposing a four-year package worth €600 million, or $780 million, to focus on health, justice and rural development.
In Washington, the Pentagon announced Thursday that it was delaying the departure of a 3,200-soldier combat brigade from Afghanistan for as long three months, increasing the U.S. force level in Afghanistan to around 24,000. Another 20,000 soldiers from other NATO countries are also deployed there.
An additional $2 billion would go to reconstruction projects like roadbuilding, laying down electric power lines, development in rural areas, and counternarcotics efforts, administration officials said. The officials said that they planned to use some of the money to help Afghanistan and Pakistan battle the Taliban and other insurgents along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Bush is expected to make a formal request for the funds next month, after a year in which Taliban forces have carried out fierce attacks across the country, and particularly in the south. Another spring offensive is expected from resurgent forces linked to the Taliban, the former rulers of Afghanistan.
"The challenges of the last several months have demonstrated that we want to and we should redouble our efforts," Rice told reporters aboard her flight to Brussels after attending a donors' conference for Lebanon that was held in Paris.
The announcement of more aid and troops for Afghanistan comes after Bush's announcement two weeks ago that he is sending more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq, where the United States already has about 132,000 troops.
The troops that are to remain longer in Afghanistan, from the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, provide commanders with more forces ahead of the expected spring offensive by the Taliban. The unit was supposed to return to the United States next month. But commanders asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates for additional forces when he visited Kabul last week, and he said at the time that he was inclined to support the request. In a statement, the U.S. Army said the additional forces were necessary to "deny the Taliban a base of operations."
Because another battalion is scheduled to leave Afghanistan shortly, the actual increase in U.S. troop numbers as a result of holding over the 3,500-member brigade will be about 2,500 troops, said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.
The increase comes at the same time that the Bush administration is renewing pressure on its European allies to increase their troops commitments in Afghanistan. It is aimed at quelling European concerns that the United States might soon draw down in Afghanistan to meet its growing troop commitments in Iraq. British, Canadian and Dutch troops have at times since last summer been in intense combat in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's heartland.
In addition, a U.S. general, Dan McNeil, is assuming command of the NATO mission in Afghanistan next month, taking over from a British officer.
Since 2001, the United States has provided over $14.2 billion in aid to Afghanistan.
Afghan lawmaker killed
An assailant gunned down an Afghan lawmaker Friday who had been an official in the former Taliban regime and oversaw the destruction of two massive 1,500-year-old Buddha statues during the fundamentalists' reign, The Associated Press reported from Kabul.
The lawmaker, Maulavi Mohammed Islam Mohammadi, who was the Taliban's governor of Bamiyan Province when the fifth-century Buddha statues were blown up with dynamite and artillery in March 2001, was killed on his way to Friday prayers in Kabul, said Zulmai Khan, Kabul's deputy police chief.
Story courtesy of the Associated Press.
Scores and highlights..More >>
Scores and highlights..More >>