WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is trying to assure Afghan officials their country will not be shoved aside in the rush to stabilize postwar Iraq, even though Afghanistan is getting a much smaller share of the billions in reconstruction aid destined for the two countries.
Two undersecretaries, the head of the U.S. aid agency and President Bush's main adviser on Afghanistan participated in an Afghan recovery conference Monday with Afghan government leaders at Georgetown University.
Later this week, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman (search) visits the Afghan capital, Kabul, to meet with President Hamid Karzai and other officials.
Those moves came as American and Afghan troops launched a new anti-terror operation in eastern Afghanistan, hoping to unravel a network of insurgents including Al Qaeda fighters, Taliban militia and forces loyal to a renegade warlord.
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah (search), who, like many Afghans uses one name, said Monday the United States does not have the luxury of leaving unfinished what it started when it overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001.
"Now is not the time to walk away from the reconstruction effort," Abdullah said. "We need your help as the lead coalition partner to accelerate the successes we have achieved and build on them."
Specifically, Abdullah said, Afghanistan needs help tightening security before elections next summer. Karzai's government, he said, continues to face "a threat from terrorists that has to be eliminated." He also said a rapid increase in opium poppy cultivation in the countryside poses an "alarming security challenge that, if left unchecked, could destabilize the entire region."
According to a U.N. report, Afghan poppies, used to make opium and heroin, are being grown on 197,000 acres across 28 of the country's 32 provinces. Government efforts to halt production have been weak and sporadic.
The reconstruction money was a part of an $87.5 billion bill President Bush signed into law last week to pay military and reconstruction costs in the two countries.
Iraq got $18.6 billion for rebuilding, but Afghanistan was allocated only $1.2 billion even though, as The Economist newsmagazine said this week, "Afghanistan has more people, more pressing needs and fewer resources of its own." Afghanistan has roughly 3.5 million more people than Iraq with no natural resources to rival Iraq's huge oil reserves.
John B. Taylor (search), undersecretary of Treasury for international affairs, said most of the $1.2 billion and other money the U.S. government is providing Afghanistan will go toward improved security as the government and U.S.-led coalition forces continue to battle remnants of the Taliban in the eastern part of the country.
About $700 million will go for police training, army training and counternarcotics activity, with an eye toward having 19,000 officers trained by June, Taylor said. Roughly $900 million will go for economic assistance, including roads, schools, health clinics, power generation and private sector initiatives.