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International Relief Agency Welcomes Obama Plan for Afghanistan

The international relief agency, Oxfam, is welcoming the increased development aid for Afghanistan announced by President Barack Obama Friday. A representative from the organization commented on the administration's plans at a Capitol Hill forum, coinciding with the release an Oxfam report calling for reform of U.S. foreign assistance.

The Oxfam report criticizes the U.S. aid program in Afghanistan as disjointed, bureaucratic and overly dependent on private Western contractors. It calls for changes in the civilian aid bureaucracy, saying aid workers are bound by structures and strategies that often constrain their ability to work effectively on the ground.

According to the Congressional Research Service, $31 billion has been spent on military and civilian aid to Afghanistan since 2001.

President Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan places increased emphasis on civilian missions, including training police and assisting farmers - initiatives praised by Matt Waldman, head of policy in Afghanistan at Oxfam International. "There are many aspects of this strategy, particularly those that focus on development and improving assistance that are very welcome," he said,

On hand for the Capitol Hill forum was Afghan Deputy Minister of Commerce, Adib Farhadi, who expressed hope the United States would expand its assistance in rebuilding his country's infrastructure. "The United States has heavily invested in roads. Now it is time to go into bigger infrastructure, dams and hydropower because after so many years, Kabul is still in the dark. We still do not have electricity in Kabul," he said.

Farhadi says the international community has underestimated the devastation in Afghanistan.

He says he hopes the U.S. aid money will help put more Afghans to work. "It's about jobs, jobs, jobs. I don't even want to call it aid to Afghanistan anymore. I want to call it a stimulus package for Afghanistan," he said.

Ritu Sharma, co-founder and president of the nonprofit organization, Women Thrive Worldwide, says it is important to get more Afghan women into the workplace. "Where we are talking about agriculture, where we are talking about infrastructure, where we are talking about trade, wherever it is, we are talking about making sure that women have access to some of those jobs, of course respecting the culture," she said.

President Obama plans to send hundreds of civilian personnel to improve the Afghan government's delivery of basic services.

He also announced that some 4,000 new military-trainers would join 17,000 additional combat and support troops to Afghanistan in the coming months. The overall force level should reach 59,000 by October.

Matt Waldman of Oxfam says he hopes that with the deployment of more troops, the United States will do everything possible to minimize harm to Afghan civilians during possible future air strikes or raids on houses.