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White House to Request Big Increase in Afghan Aid 

The Bush administration said Thursday it will ask Congress for more than $10 billion in new military and reconstruction aid money for Afghanistan, where attacks by Taleban forces have been on the rise. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will press NATO allies for similar increases when they convene Friday in Brussels. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The bulk of the $10.6 billion aid plan, to be part of a supplemental budget request to Congress next month, will be devoted to training and equipping Afghan security forces, while $2 billion will be for reconstruction.

It represents a sizable increase in U.S. aid commitments to Afghanistan, which have totaled just over $14 billion since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 that ousted the Taleban regime.

It also reflects concern about the resurgence of the Taleban, which has been increasing its military activity and is expected to mount a new offensive when spring arrives.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and officials here provided details of the proposal on the eve of Friday's meeting in Brussels of NATO foreign ministers, where Rice will brief her colleagues on the plan.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack says the package is both a demonstration of support for the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai and an example that the Bush administration hopes will be followed by NATO partners.

"It's also a demonstration of support to our NATO members that we're committed to Afghanistan and that we would certainly hope that the alliance would match that commitment, if not in actual dollar figures but in terms of their commitment to do everything that they can to fight the Taleban and to help rebuild, or build Afghanistan so that you have a more stable and prosperous country," he said.

Burden-sharing has become a contentious issue between Washington and its allies as NATO has assumed much of the responsibility for Afghan security over the last two years.

There are about 34,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, including about 12,000 U.S. soldiers. Another 12,000 American troops are there under direct U.S. command.

The Pentagon said Wednesday Defense Secretary Robert Gates is extending the tours of duty for 3,500 elite U.S. Army troops now in that country by four months.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says the decision grew out of the new defense chief's first visit to Afghanistan last week, but he would not say whether there will be further increases in U.S. troop strength.

"What is certain is that Secretary Gates is very interested in ensuring that the successes that we've achieved in Afghanistan are not lost, and that commanders on the ground have sufficient forces to build on the successes we've achieved so far in Afghanistan," he said.

Whitman renewed U.S. calls for other NATO members to fill the 15 percent shortfall in their delivery of promised troops for Afghanistan, and to remove conditions, so-called "caveats," limiting the duties of alliance troops.

Some NATO countries, for instance, have barred their soldiers from serving in the southern parts of Afghanistan, where the Taleban insurgency is strongest.

Spokesman McCormack said here that progress has been made within NATO on what he termed the "fundamental" issue of the caveats, and that he expects that Secretary Rice will pursue the matter with her colleagues Friday.