US envoy unveils outlines of new Afghan strategy

The United States will call for major efforts to build the Afghan police, fight opium production and boost farm aid in a new strategy to beat the Taliban-led insurgency, a US envoy said Saturday, AFP reported.

US representative Richard Holbrooke said the review would put Pakistan at the heart of efforts to combat the insurgents -- including Al-Qaeda fighters, drug runners and criminal gangs -- but stressed cross-border activity was ruled out as a "red line" for Pakistan's government.

His comments, at the Brussels Forum conference, come just two days before he meets EU and NATO officials in the Belgian capital in a last series of talks about the best way to tackle a problem fuelling international terrorism.

"It's a daunting task and let no-one underestimate the difficulty of it. The people of Europe and the people of the United States have to decide whether it matters to make this effort," Holbrooke warned.

He said the insurgents were operating out of bases in Pakistan, where a fragile government has recently taken over and the army is focused more on fighting India than insurgents in lawless tribal areas.

But he underlined that US and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan would not be crossing the mountainous border to hunt down insurgents, even though US drones have launched missiles at fighters crossing over.

"The heart of the problem for the West is in western Pakistan. But there are not going to be US or NATO troops on the ground in Pakistan. There is a red line for the government of Pakistan and one which we must respect," he said.

Holbrooke also said that the United States has appealed to its allies to help train thousands more Afghan police.

"The Afghan national police are an inadequate organisation riddled with corruption," he said. "We know they are the weak link in the security chain, so we have to figure out a way to increase the size and make them better at the same time."

The European Union agreed last year to double the size of its EUPOL police mission there to some 400 police, law enforcement and justice experts, but the force has been criticised for being too small.

On Thursday, six EU nations agreed to allow their joint gendarmerie team to be used to help bolster the Afghan police. Turkey could also be involved, but the plan still has to be endorsed by the bloc.

Holbrooke said an initial assessment that the Afghan police should grow from 78,000 now to 82,000 had fallen well short of reality, but he played down press reports that 400,000 police would be needed.

He also announced a revamp of US efforts to combat the Afghan opium trade, which has proved a major source of funds for the insurgency.

"The United States alone is spending over 800 million dollars a year on counter-narcotics. We have gotten nothing out of it, nothing," he said. "It is the most wasteful and ineffective programme I have seen in 40 years."

"We want to re-examine it top to bottom," he said.

According to US government figures last month, Afghanistan remained the world's largest opium poppy producer, despite a 19-percent drop in cultivation last year, and it still supplies 90 percent of the world's heroin.

Holbrooke also said the administration would focus heavily on agriculture reform.

He said the plan was to implement "a very significantly expanded agricultural sector job-creation set of programmes -- irrigation, farmer to market roads, market places, seed."

"This is an area of great promise, rebuilding the Afghan economy is critical," he added.

The EU has spent some eight billion euros (11 billion dollars) in Afghanistan for the 2001-2010 period, but Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said the 27-nation bloc can do much more for the economy there.

"Until 2013, we have something like 40 billion euros for all our external activities. We are spending 160 million of that on Afghanistan per annum, that's not going to do the job," he said.

"Europe is the largest economy on earth. We are a developmental super-power," he said.

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