The top U.S. official for Central and South Asia said Thursday Washington's plan to counter the resurgence of the Taleban in Afghanistan includes greater attention to development.
Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher told students at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies he has been surprised at the Taleban's intensity. He attributed some of the recent Taleban activity to NATO's taking over control of military operations in Afghanistan.
"As they [Taleban] see NATO deploy in these areas, they've been challenging the NATO troops, crudely put, trying to find out if these guys are as tough as the Americans," said Richard Boucher.
NATO last week requested up to 2,500 extra troops to help combat the Taleban, which is most active in southern Afghanistan.
Boucher said the hardest part of NATO and Afghan efforts to stabilize the country, especially in the troublesome south, is winning over the majority of the people to support the Afghan government.
"The people of the south, they're not all Taleban," he said. "A lot of them are fence-sitters [undecided], a lot of them are villagers. And those people need to see the benefits of government, the benefits of good governance."
He said concrete benefits of good governance include things like irrigation projects, schools and clinics.
He also emphasized the importance of building roads in Afghanistan, and highlighted a successful project in which Bolivian engineers taught Afghans how to build roads with packed stones and sand.
Meanwhile, Boucher said although opium poppies are the most lucrative crop for Afghan farmers, greater efforts should be made to persuade them to grow legal crops. He said these efforts include making the alternative produce, such as wheat or apricots, part of a larger economic system that would include food processing and distribution.