US to keep Afghanistan, Pakistan civilian presence
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 State Department report said on Thursday, Reuters reported.
"While our combat mission in Afghanistan is not open-ended, we will remain politically, diplomatically and economically engaged in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the long-term to protect our enduring interests in the region," the report said.
"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.
President Barack Obama announced last month plans to add 30,000 troops to the roughly 68,000 troops already in Afghanistan.
He said that the United States would start withdrawing troops in the middle of 2011, but officials say that the pullout would depend on conditions on the ground, and no deadline for the troops to leave 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 Feb. 1.
His request for funding to pay for his new Afghanistan strategy will include "a sizable amount for civilian assistance to implement our programs," the State Department report said, without giving an amount.
"Aligned with our national security objectives, civilian assistance will help build Afghan capacity in key areas and also reassure Afghans that our commitment is long term," said the report, which was titled "Afghanistan and Pakistan Regional Stabilization Strategy."
The United States planned on a significant increase in civilian experts to help rebuild Afghanistan's agriculture sector, strengthen its governance, and support efforts to re-integrate Taliban fighters who renounce al Qaeda, it said.
The report did not give a specific figure but said the increase in civilian experts would go beyond a recent tripling of deployed U.S. civilians from 320 civilians in Afghanistan a year ago to nearly 1,000 on the ground now.
The experts will be sent from various U.S. government departments and agencies, including the departments of state, agriculture, treasury, homeland security and justice as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency and the FBI.