Washington - The United States expects to provide Afghanistan with a total of $820 million during fiscal year 2003 for developmental, reconstruction and humanitarian needs. The aid package was announced by the State Department March 17, the same day a high-level forum was held in Brussels for international donors to hear Afghan officials present a budget request to cover their country's developmental expenses in the coming year.
The members of the Afghan delegation, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani, and the ministers for Reconstruction and for Rural Reconstruction, reported that at the Brussels meeting they received international commitments covering 90 percent of the $2.25 billion they had requested, according to Ambassador David Johnson, the U.S. Coordinator for Afghanistan.
Johnson spoke with the Washington File via a satellite connection from Brussels on March 17. He said the generous contributions from the European Union, United States, Japan, and other donors showed that continued assistance to Afghanistan "is an endeavor which has broad international support and broad international participation."
It's not just the United States, he said, but the "world community at large."
The $820 million figure is a significant increase over the $569 million given by the United States during the 2002 fiscal year. During fiscal year 2002, said Ambassador Johnson, the Bush Administration had originally pledged $297 million at the January 2002 donor's conference in Tokyo, but had subsequently provided 90 percent more than that.
Johnson said a "larger and larger proportion" of the U.S. funds and resources would be used towards the "long-term reconstruction effort." However, he also said the United States was "very proud" that it had played a key role with other donors "in keeping a famine from taking place in Afghanistan" during the winter of 2001-2002.
When asked about U.S. priorities for the $820 million, Johnson said the rebuilding and training of the Afghan National Army (ANA) was "the most resource intensive effort and the most important one that we have underway."
A well-trained and well-equipped national army will help to provide a security platform for the many reconstruction and development ventures needed by the country. The United States, besides training the Afghan battalions, is also building barracks and supplying the ANA with operating expenses.
"Without security, there is not going to be reconstruction and a viable Afghanistan in the long term," said Johnson.
"They are, by any measure, the best trained and equipped and most disciplined infantry forces in Afghanistan. And we're determined to see this program through so that there is an army which can protect Afghanistan," he said.
Another important project is the rebuilding of the highway, which links the capital Kabul with Qandahar in the south and Herat in the west. Johnson said that despite what he termed "an engineering challenge," the United States is determined to complete the Kabul - Qandahar segment of the road before Afghanistan's general elections in June 2004.
The United States is contributing $80 million for the highway construction, while Japan and Saudi Arabia each are contributing $60 million. Johnson said the Afghan government has just concluded its negotiations with the Saudis for their assistance. He added that Japan intends to have its construction equipment on the ground in Afghanistan within one month and to begin construction shortly thereafter.
When completed, Johnson said the highway will not only benefit Afghanistan's domestic transportation system, but also will eventually allow Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors to move goods to and from ports on the Indian Ocean "for the first time in modern history."
Fielding questions related to possible U.S. military action against Iraq, Johnson said U.S. assistance to Afghanistan would not be reduced because of reconstruction needs for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq.
President Bush invited Afghan President Hamid Karzai to Washington in late February "to make precisely the point that we wouldn't forget Afghanistan," said Johnson. The president assured Karzai that "the resources would be there, the political engagement would be there, [and] that our military forces would be there to finish the job which we have begun," Johnson added.
Johnson reported that European Union Commissioner Chris Patten has also said that the European states "were indeed with Afghanistan for the duration."
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)