United States increases aid to Afghanistan

Plan is to train troops to prevent ethnic violence

January 16, 2003|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

KABUL, Afghanistan - Despite its buildup for possible war in Iraq, the United States is stepping up reconstruction aid to Afghanistan and hopes to accelerate the training of a national army capable of forestalling ethnic violence.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on a whirlwind inspection tour yesterday that included visits to a road construction project in the desert and a once nearly destroyed women's hospital. Wolfowitz also inspected Afghan National Army troops.

"We continue to pay a lot of attention to the problems of this country," Wolfowitz said outside the stone presidential palace in Kabul, which is pockmarked from shell fire. "Iraq is obviously a major concern to the United States, but it is not our only concern."

The international community pledged $2 billion in aid for Afghanistan last year.

The United States pledged $297 million and then doubled it, Wolfowitz said.

The southwest Asian country has known almost nothing but war for 23 years.

Rebuilding Afghanistan, officials here said, will be a larger effort than the one that faced the United States after military operations in Kosovo, Haiti and elsewhere.

But they said that the United States would not suddenly pull out.

The United States has about 9,000 troops in Afghanistan and no plans to scale back that number, said Lt. Gen. Dan K. McNeil, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 180.

Other nations, including France, Korea and Britain, which share facilities with the Americans at the Bagram Air Base, have an additional 4,000 troops in Afghanistan.

"The coalition effort is not going anywhere for a while," McNeil said yesterday.

In addition, the Turkish-led International Security Assistance Force, composed of troops from 17 nations, is charged with keeping peace in Kabul, the capital, and helping to protect the Karzai government.

German and Dutch commanders will take command of the force in coming days.

Six battalions of Afghans have been trained by Army Special Forces soldiers from Colorado and by French troops.

Soldiers undergo 10 weeks of training and are outfitted with an assortment of donated weapons and supplies.

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