Facing failure in Iraq Bush pumps another 8bn in Afghanistan

The White House announced a major shift in its strategy towards Afghanistan yesterday that will see more aid and military help for the country after four years in which it has suffered from Washington 's overwhelming focus on Iraq.

Facing failure in Iraq, where violence is worsening, the US is anxious to avoid a similar catastrophe in Afghanistan.

Billions of dollars are to be pumped into Afghanistan to help build up the army and for reconstruction projects such as roads, water, schools and clinics.

About 3,200 US troops in Afghanistan from the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division who were due to return home are to remain for a further 120 days to help Nato counter an expected Taliban spring offensive.

The White House is to ask Congress next month for $8bn (£4.1bn) in new funds, which is more than half the $14.2bn Washington has spent on Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001, the Guardian reports.

In addition, the Pentagon announced yesterday that it would extend the tours of 3,200 soldiers in Afghanistan. The troops from the 3rd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, were expecting to complete a one-year deployment next month, but their tour of duty had been extended by up to 120 days.

The extension means there will be about 2,500 more soldiers in Afghanistan than planned for the next few months.

"The challenges of the last several months have demonstrated that we want to and we should redouble our efforts," Miss Rice said as she flew last night to Brussels, where she will urge fellow NATO members today to follow Washington's lead and increase their financial assistance.

She said $8.6 billion would be used for training and equipping Afghan police and security forces. The money would also help to increase the Afghan army by 70,000 soldiers and police forces by 82,000, a senior U.S. official said.

The remaining $2 billion would go to building roads, an electricity grid and other infrastructure, as well as counternarcotics operations, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

The administration will submit the request as a supplemental to this year's budget, but the funds would be disbursed over the next two years, officials said.

They said the White House had realized that an "adjustment in strategy" was urgently needed if Afghanistan was going to be the success the United States wants it to be, and a broad interagency review was conducted in the past several months, the Washington Times reports.

The increase comes at the same time that the Bush administration is renewing pressure on European allies to increase their troops in Afghanistan and is aimed at quelling European concerns that the United States may soon draw down in Afghanistan to meet its growing troop commitments in Iraq. British, Canadian and Dutch troops have at times since last summer been in intense combat in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban’s heartland.

In addition, an American general, Dan K. McNeil, is taking command of the NATO mission in Afghanistan next month, taking over from a British officer.

The NATO-led force remains about 15 percent short of the troop and equipment levels pledged by its contributing nations, a point that is bound to be of contention during Friday’s scheduled NATO meeting in Brussels to discuss Afghanistan , the New York Times reports.

Source: agencies

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik

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Author`s name Alex Naumov