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Blair, Karzai Discuss Rebuilding of Afghanistan - 2003-06-05

Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, has held talks in London with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on his country's efforts to rebuild, after more than two decades of war.

Officials say the Blair-Karzai meeting focused on reconstruction, security and anti-narcotics efforts.

Afghanistan has received about $1.5 billion in foreign aid since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 to overthrow the Taleban regime and clear out base camps of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

But officials say Afghanistan will need as much as $30 billion over the next decade to rebuild the infrastructure destroyed during 22 years of war.

President Karzai has had trouble extending the authority of his provisional government beyond the capital, Kabul. And security risks continue. Officials say, on Wednesday, a gun battle killed 40 Taleban militants and seven Afghan soldiers.

The British defense secretary, Geoff Hoon, announced Thursday that Britain will contribute one of eight reconstruction teams to help stabilize Afghanistan. The British contingent of up to 70 soldiers will deploy in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, where rival Afghan commanders have fought for control of various areas.

Before the war, Prime Minister Blair complained that 90 percent of the heroin sold in Britain came from opium cultivated in Afghanistan. United Nations officials say Afghan opium production has risen since then.

President Karzai has announced a 10-year program to eradicate opium. British officials say they want foreign aid used to give incentives to farmers to grow different crops, but they concede it will be a slow and difficult transition. As one official put it, opium production is "embedded" in the Afghan economy.

On another subject, President Karzai discussed Britain's crackdown on Afghan asylum-seekers with the home secretary, David Blunkett.

Mr. Blunkett said the removal of the Taleban has eliminated the threat that drove many Afghans to flee to Britain, and he says, now, those Afghans should return home, and help rebuild their country.