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Afghanistan: U.S. Coordinator Discusses Berlin Donors' Conference

Karzai: Rallying support Ambassador William Taylor, the U.S. coordinator for Afghanistan, spoke today at a news conference ahead of an important Afghanistan donors' conference in Berlin on 31 March. He said the United States expects the conference to provide major new funds for Afghanistan, address the burgeoning drug production and cement the security situation. RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Ahto Lobjakas reports.

Brussels, 29 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Despite indications from the European Union and elsewhere that most prospective donors for Afghanistan are unwilling to pledge major new contributions, the United States has made clear it goes to the event with ambitious goals.

William Taylor, the U.S. coordinator for Afghanistan, today told journalists a lot more money will be needed over the coming years.

"The international community is coming to Berlin to recommit itself to a long-term support of Afghanistan. This will be both in political terms, economic terms, and security terms. On the economic side, it is very clear that a lot more money, a lot more resources are going to be required over a longer period of time than was thought during the previous donors’ conference back in Tokyo two years ago," Taylor said.

Taylor said the Afghan government estimates it needs $4 billion this year. Over the decade between 2001 and 2010, the country is estimated to need up to $28 billion.

Taylor said the pledging target for the Berlin conference is this fiscal year. He said the United States will cover $2.2 billion of the $4 billion needed. The EU and its member states will add roughly another $1 billion.

The Berlin event is likely to praise Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's recent decision to delay elections until September. Taylor said this gives NATO time to find and deploy the troops necessary to secure the registration process and the elections.

Taylor said between 7 million and 9 million of the total 10 million eligible voters need to be registered for credible elections. He said a major registration drive will begin in May, when the existing 50 sites expand to 4,000 across the country.

Taylor said he believes NATO will play a major role in securing the elections. However, he said, it was still uncertain how many troops the organization can find for what is expected to be a temporary deployment.

"I do not have access to needs assessment at this point. I believe that the military authority in Brussels, the NATO military committee, is taking a look at that, what the requirements are. Again, I've heard estimates of a couple of battalions or a brigade. This would be ambitious, and I don't know that this will be adopted by the NATO military authorities as the statement of need, but I know they are taking a serious look at what kind of support forces they can provide," Taylor said.

The recently arrived 2,000 U.S. Marines, in the country to support the ongoing offensive against insurgents, will also give security for the elections a "very high priority."

Taylor said combating the drugs trade will also feature prominently on the Berlin agenda. He said a new campaign will be launched shortly to eradicate poppy fields.

"There is a plan that will start very shortly, to eradicate fields of opium poppy before they are harvested. That plan will be implemented, as I say, within the next week or so, and will be followed up by another phase that the U.S. government is supporting. Again, both of these plans, both phases of eradication, will be implemented by the government of Afghanistan, with support both from the United Kingdom that is taking the lead on supporting the Afghan government in this counternarcotics effort, [and] the second phase will be supported by the United States," Taylor said.

Taylor said the United States will provide $40 million over two years to help equip and train the eradication force and their security details. He said the operation would be managed directly by the Afghan government and not be dependent on local officials for compliance.

Taylor said problems with local warlords were likely during the campaign. But he praised Karzai's efforts to establish greater control over provincial governors. Taylor said the interim president has already "systematically" changed around 15 of the 32 provincial governors. He also said recent clashes in the western Afghan city of Herat had led to two Afghan battalions being deployed around the city.

Taylor indicated neither the U.S.-led coalition nor NATO is likely to be directly involved in the new counternarcotics campaign.

"Coalition forces are being instructed as to what their role should be when they come across drug-related activity in Afghanistan when they are doing their main mission of tracking down terrorists, defending against attacks from Al-Qaeda, [the] Taliban, other insurgencies. As they undertake those efforts, they will, we are sure, come across people involved in the drug trade. Whether this is stockpiles, whether these are labs, whether these are traffickers, we know that they will come across [them]. These soldiers and these units, these military organizations are being instructed on their response to this, and of course, part of their response to this could be to destroy the labs or the stockpiles, or to apprehend traffickers, or to call the local police or the national police or the Afghan National Army or other national law enforcement organizations to deal with these problems they've come across," Taylor said.

Taylor said the Berlin conference will also address the key issue of providing current poppy farmers with alternative livelihoods. He said compensation schemes in the past had backfired as farmers tend to re-cultivate their poppy fields the following year in the expectations of more money. Instead, other crops and extensive rural jobs schemes are needed. As part of that effort, Taylor said, the United States has provided significant support to road-building projects to improve farmers' access to markets and mobility in the countryside.

Taylor said he also expects the Berlin conference to produce an agreement among Afghanistan's neighbors to shut off the flow of drugs to Russia and Western Europe.