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US, Japan Host Conference on Afghan Rebuilding - 2001-11-20

U.S. and Japanese officials are hosting an international conference Tuesday aimed at planning for reconstruction of post-Taleban Afghanistan. U.S. officials are calling it a kick-off meeting to gather support from donors for the tough and expensive task of rebuilding a country ravaged by years of drought and war.

On the eve of the meeting, a senior State Department official told reporters the United States wants to send a message to the world and the Afghan people that it will not walk away from Afghanistan like it did after the defeat of the Soviets in the 1980s. He says the United States and Japan, which are co-chairing the meeting, want to help develop a long-term plan to rebuild the country.

Twenty donor countries and organizations are expected to attend the talks, including high level officials from several European and Middle Eastern countries. They are looking to set priorities for the reconstruction effort and get an idea of just how much aid will be needed to get Afghanistan on its feet.

U.S. officials say the meeting was put together in a rush over the past ten days in response to a rapid chain of Taleban defeats. There are also other Afghan reconstruction efforts on the horizon. The World Bank is hosting a larger gathering in Islamabad, Pakistan, later this month and the Afghan Support Group of donor countries is expected to meet in Germany in December.

Afghanistan has long been one of the world's poorest countries, even before the Soviet invasion more than 20 years ago.

Aid officials say just rebuilding the country to the pre-conflict status of the 1970s will not be enough. They have been wary of putting a price tag on the effort, but say it will be high and could take up to five years to set the country on the right track.