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US Working on $1 Billion Aid Package for Afghanistan - 2003-07-28

The Bush administration says it is preparing a new $1 billion aid package for Afghanistan, focusing on job-creating infrastructure projects. It is aimed in part at countering criticism that the United States has lost interest in rebuilding Afghanistan as its focus has shifted to Iraq.

Officials here are not ready to announce details of the Afghan initiative. But they say a weekend Washington Post report that it will involve the reprogramming of $1 billion in U.S. military and foreign aid money already approved by Congress is essentially correct.

The initiative comes amid criticism that the Afghan reconstruction effort has faltered with the shift of U.S. attention to Iraq, and that ordinary Afghans have seen few benefits from the American and other international aid already pledged or delivered to their country.

Briefing reporters here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States has made a long-term commitment to Afghanistan's stability and reconstruction and will continue to pursue these goals, as he put it, "regardless of our responsibilities elsewhere."

He also said the additional money will be focused on the kind of projects that can be completed within a year to lift Afghan employment and economic growth.

"We fully intend to bring the benefits of reconstruction to the Afghan peoplem," he said. "By accelerating our efforts we can make those benefits available in the next ten months. To accelerate reconstruction, we'll place special emphasis on reconstruction projects that demonstrate to the Afghan people the concrete, visible programs that are improving their lives."

The Washington Post said the new money for Afghanistan would go toward highway and school construction and other infrastructure initiatives, including building up the Afghan national army and police, education projects and programs to help women enter the workforce.

It said the program would be tailored to have a maximum impact before the country's first-ever nationwide elections planned for October of 2004.

Officials here say the United States has delivered about $700 million in reconstruction aid for Afghanistan since an international donors conference in Tokyo in January of 2002 which produced aid pledges of more than $4 billion.

But Afghan President Hamid Karzai has complained that only a fraction of the Tokyo pledges have actually been delivered and most of that was for humanitarian programs that did little for the country's huge unemployment problem.

Spokesman Boucher said the United States will continue to press donor countries to make good on their Afghan pledges and that the discussions are underway with the world bank for another conference, to be held in Dubai in September.