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U.S. To Boost Afghanistan Civilian Presence

U.S. civilian advisers would help rebuild Afghanistan's agriculture sector, among other tasks.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States will maintain a civilian presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan for a long time, even after American combat troops leave the region, a U.S. State Department report has said.

President Barack Obama, already sending more troops to Afghanistan, wants to send more civilian advisers to help rebuild Afghanistan's agriculture sector, strengthen its governance, and support efforts to re-integrate Taliban fighters who renounce Al-Qaeda, the report said.

The document was released as British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was in Washington for talks, including details of an international conference on Afghanistan to be held in London next week.

Obama will soon submit to Congress a funding request for the civilian part of his strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters, without disclosing the amount.

"There's a very clear call, which is for every country to mobilize its civilian as well as military resources behind the coherent and credible agenda that has now been set for Afghanistan," Clinton said, standing alongside Miliband at the State Department.

Salvaging the effort to stabilize and pacify Afghanistan has emerged as a major dilemma for Obama. U.S. forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001, when they helped oust the Taliban leaders who harbored the Al-Qaeda network responsible for the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Pakistan's government has attacked Pakistani Taliban factions, but has resisted U.S. pressure to go after Afghan Taliban in border enclaves who do not strike in Pakistan but cross the border to fight U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met Pakistani leaders on January 21 to urge them to begin hunting down Afghan Taliban on their border.

The new State Department policy paper, called "Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy," noted the United States has already tripled the number of civilian experts in Afghanistan, from 320 a year ago to nearly 1,000 now.

It said the Obama administration wanted to expand this "civilian footprint" by another 20 to 30 percent in 2010, "concentrating experts in the field and at key ministries that deliver vital services to the Afghan people."

The document said Washington is placing more than 50 additional civilian advisers in core Afghan ministries, and deploying several hundred additional personnel to more than 50 locations outside Kabul.

“Recognizing that we cannot abandon Afghanistan as we did in 1989 following the Soviet withdrawal, our civilian effort must be sustained beyond our combat mission so that Afghanistan does not become a failed state and safe haven for Al-Qaeda," it said.

After meeting with Clinton, Miliband appeared before senators on Capitol Hill and told them he thought the imperative of a civilian strategy alongside a military strategy was "very clear to all."

"I think a number of countries will use the conference next week to announce increased civilian and military contributions," Miliband said. But he said it was also important to emphasize that the lead responsibility for security must be transferred to Afghanistan.

"Moves on debt relief and development assistance could be a credible part of a positive offer" to the Afghan people, Miliband said.

Obama last month announced plans to add 30,000 troops to the 68,000 troops already in Afghanistan. He said the United States would start withdrawing troops in mid-2011, but no pullout deadline has been set.

Obama is expected to request $33 billion in emergency war funding for the new surge of forces when he sends his next budget to Congress on February 1.