Sun, Jan 28, 2007 - Page 1 News List

US adds US$10.6bn to Afghan aid

SPRING OFFENSIVE Washington and its allies in Europe are planning to refocus the campaign to ensure that military advances are quickly followed by development projects


The US has told NATO allies it plans to boost aid to Afghanistan by US$10.6 billion -- a major increase that puts pressure on European governments to boost their contributions.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington may also send more troops to Afghanistan, where it already provides around one-third of NATO's 33,460 troops fighting the resurgent Taliban, by far the biggest contingent.

Rice urged allies to do more at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Friday.

"All of us will share the benefits of Afghanistan's success, so we must also share the burdens of effort," Rice said in a written statement prepared for the meeting. "Nations that have made pledges of support should follow through and deliver."

NATO is seeking to refocus its campaign in Afghanistan to ensure that military advances by its troops are quickly followed by development projects to help win support of the local population against the Taliban.

The Taliban's re-emergence last year led to Afghanistan's bloodiest year since a US-led invasion toppled the hard-line Islamic regime in 2001.

The alliance's top commander said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force planned to take advantage of the spring thaw to launch a new onslaught against Taliban positions.

"Springtime in Afghanistan: Historically we've seen increased activity" from the Taliban, US General John Craddock said. "This year we can expect an ISAF spring offensive."

"If there is to be a `spring offensive,' it must be our offensive," Rice said. "It must be a political campaign, an economic campaign, a diplomatic campaign and yes, a military campaign."

Craddock declined to give details but told reporters at NATO's northern European command in the Netherlands that preparations were under way "that will place ISAF in a very favorable position."

However, Craddock said an emphasis on reconstruction was also crucial.

"The military cannot solve the problems in Afghanistan," he said.

NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Rice's announcement of more aid had spurred other allies to "step up to the plate."

He declined to give details of additional contributions.

The EU's executive office proposed a new US$780 million package for Afghanistan to focus on health, justice and rural development over the next four years. It will particularly focus on developing alternatives to opium cultivation, which is blamed for fueling instability and providing funds for the insurgents.

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