Clinton Urges Aid for Afghanistan, Warns on Threats
By Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Gregory Viscusi and James G. Neuger
March 31 (Bloomberg) — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pleaded for more financial aid for Afghanistan, warning world leaders not to use the economic slump as an excuse to short- change the country as the terrorist threat mounts.
Outlining President Barack Obama’s new war strategy at a meeting in The Hague, Netherlands, Clinton said extremists are on the march in Afghanistan and Pakistan and urged a renewed global push to stabilize the region.
“All too often in the past seven years, our efforts have been undermanned, underresourced and underfunded,” Clinton said. “While there is great temptation to retreat inward in these difficult economic times, it is precisely at such moments that we must redouble our efforts.”
The one-day, 73-country conference marks a turning point in the U.S. policy on Afghanistan, as Obama shifts the focus to economic reconstruction, eases pressure on Europe to send more troops, and steps up efforts to stamp out terrorist havens in neighboring Pakistan.
Since taking office in January, Obama has ordered 17,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to fight the resurgent Taliban, the radical Islamist movement ousted by the U.S. in 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks. As part of a strategic review announced last week, Obama also said he will send 4,000 more trainers to Afghanistan to build up the local army.
European leaders, hectored by the Bush administration for failing to dispatch enough frontline troops to the war zone, expressed relief that the U.S. will shoulder the extra military burdens.
New U.S. Approach
The new U.S. approach is not to badger European governments to send forces they don’t have, a senior U.S. official told reporters in Brussels yesterday. Instead, as shown by today’s “big tent” conference, the point is to encourage allies to do what they can.
While financial aid to rebuild Afghanistan’s economy and build up its 79,000-strong army figures high on the priority list, today’s conference isn’t meant to solicit extra donations on top of more than $21 billion pledged at a Paris conference last June.
Still, some new aid was on offer. China offered $75 million over five years and Spain said it will consider pledging 120 million euros ($160 million) for 2010-12. The European Commission, donor of $2.1 billion to Afghanistan since 2002, said it will provide another 60 million euros for rural development and to help stage Afghan elections on Aug. 20. The U.S. offered $40 million for the elections, further defraying costs estimated by the United Nations at $220 million.
As the deepest economic slump since World War II strains government budgets, Clinton also said much of the money plowed into Afghanistan has been misspent on programs that don’t work.