BRUSSELS, Belgium – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appealed to allies Friday to do more to help Afghanistan, and placed a hefty U.S. aid increase on the table as an incentive.
The Bush administration wants NATO allies to increase money, troops and other support for the unsteady democracy in Afghanistan, and also is working to dispel European suspicion that the United States is too busy in Iraq to pay attention to the older Afghan fight.
"Every one of us must take a hard look at what more we can do to help the Afghan people, and to support one another," Rice told a gathering of NATO foreign ministers that was arranged to commence planning for an expected Taliban military offensive in coming months.
Among other issues Rice raised Friday were the divisions within the alliance on sharing the burden in Afghanistan. Some NATO countries have shown a greater willingness than others to send troops to areas of conflict.
The United States is the largest contributor to the 34,460-member NATO force in Afghanistan, with 11,800 troops. Britain is next with 5,200.
The Bush administration plans to ask Congress for $10.6 billion for Afghanistan.
"We're looking to others to step up their effort with us, step up across the board," Richard Boucher, Assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, told reporters Thursday.
The funding proposal follows a year in which Taliban forces launched surprisingly fierce attacks across the country, opium poppy production expanded and relations worsened between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a vital ally against global terror.
"The challenges of the last several months have demonstrated that we want to and we should redouble our efforts," Rice told reporters flying with her to Brussels for the NATO sessions.
The aid package would fund training and equipment to meet a previously set goal of increasing the ranks of Afghan soldiers and national police to about 70,000 and 82,000 respectively, among other uses, a State Department official said. The official spoke condition of anonymity because President George Bush will make a formal budget request next month.
The new money would be on top of $14.2 billion in aid the United States has already given Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban government.
Rice said that of the total, $8.6 billion would be for training and equipping Afghan police and security forces, and $2 billion would be for reconstruction. The money would be spent over the next two years.
The aid proposal comes alongside a move toward increasing the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The Defense Department has said 3,200 soldiers already in Afghanistan would have their tour extended by four months. In a visit to Afghanistan last week, new Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated he probably will ask Bush for more troops for Afghanistan.
About 24,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, the highest number since the war began in October 2001. About half are in the NATO force, which is gradually gaining more control over operations.
The NATO-led force is about 20 percent short of troop levels pledged by its contributing nations.
Casualties in Afghanistan have risen sharply in recent months as an emboldened Taliban widened military operations and suicide attacks. Some 4,000 people died in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan last year, according to numbers from Afghan, U.S. and NATO officials.
Some of the money also will go toward expanding drug-fighting efforts. Fueled by the Taliban, a powerful drug mafia and the need for a profitable crop that can overcome drought, opium production from poppies in Afghanistan last year rose 49 percent to 6,700 tons — enough to make about 670 tons of heroin, or more than 90 percent of the world's supply and more than the amount that the world's addicts consume in a year.