U.S. commits to Afghan reconstruction

Published: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 16, 2003 at 2:05 a.m.

BAGRAM, Afghanistan-- With the U.S. mission in Afghanistan now focused on rebuilding the shattered nation, top Pentagon officials are trying to rally more allied aid for the effort and determine whether it can be expanded.

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The U.S. is trying to rally more allied aid for Afghanistan.

The Associated Press

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz led a delegation of Bush administration officials on Wednesday to gauge the progress of the military's humanitarian efforts so far and chart the future course of relief programs in the war-ravaged nation.

Wolfowitz joined Defense Department finance chief Dov Zakheim, who is visiting allies to press for more and faster aid to rebuild Afghanistan.

The high-profile visit by the Pentagon's second-in-command is meant to show the United States remains committed to rebuilding Afghanistan after helping to topple the Taliban, even as a possible war with Iraq looms and nuclear tensions with North Korea escalate.

Indeed, there are no plans to reduce the 8,000 or so U.S. troops based there -- and Pentagon officials hope to speed up the rebuilding process.

Wolfowitz planned a visit to a road-building project funded by the United States, Japan and Saudi Arabia to rebuild the war-damaged road between Kabul, Kandahar and Herat.

He also planned to inspect the training center for the U.S.-led project to outfit an Afghan National Army to replace the militias run by local warlords who have largely ruled Afghanistan for decades.

Wolfowitz is also scheduled to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim.

Fahim has been helpful in getting new recruits for the national army, a senior Pentagon official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The first unit of the newly trained army has begun operations in Paktika province, an area near the Pakistan border that's a hotbed of support for the Taliban.

Wolfowitz will also meet Turkish Gen. Hilmi Akin Zorlu, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, according to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The U.S. does not contribute troops to the 4,800-member security force, which patrols Kabul and assists in rebuilding projects.

Karzai has been pressing the United Nations to expand the role of the peacekeepers outside of Kabul. Currently they are confined to the capital.

Before leaving, Wolfowitz was to dine with the troops at Bagram Air Base, outside the Afghan capital.

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