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US Pledges Another $1 Billion for Afghanistan


An international conference on Afghanistan has opened in London with the United States pledging another $1 billion in assistance for the war-ravaged country next year.

The London conference has brought together officials from about 70 counties and international institutions to support a five-year plan for Afghanistan's security and economic development.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says there is much hard work still to be done in Afghanistan, and the United States will remain a strong partner.

"The United States is fully devoted to the long-term success of Afghanistan. For us, this is a strategic partnership," she said. "We have committed tens of thousands of our troops to help stabilize the country. We have sacrificed precious American lives. And now, in addition to our current commitment of nearly $6 billion, today, I am proud to announce that President Bush will ask our Congress for $1.1 billion in new assistance to support the Afghan people next year."

Other countries are making their own financial commitments to Afghanistan, including about $875 million from Britain. Russia says it is prepared to forgive $10 billion in Soviet-era debt.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says his country will need at least $4 billion a year to meet the targets set by the London conference, and he says counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics operations are the top priority.

Mr. Karzai has told a news conference it will take a long time to eradicate Afghanistan's opium poppies, which produce 90 percent of the heroin consumed in Europe.

"Afghanistan will need at least 10 years of a strong, systematic consistent effort in eradication, in law enforcement and in the provision to the Afghan farmer of an alternative economy in order for us to be free of poppies by that time," he said. "So I would give it a decade."

Western powers are realigning their forces in Afghanistan for missions of counter-insurgency and security-force training.

The United States, which led the invasion of Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, plans to cut its forces this year from 19,000 to about 16,500 troops. Meanwhile, NATO plans to increase its troop commitment from 9,000 to 15,000 in the second half of this year.

U.S. forces have concentrated primarily on counter-insurgency operations against militants from the former ruling Taleban, while NATO has provided training for Afghan soldiers and counter-narcotics police.