Feb. 18 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today that cutting diplomatic and economic aid to Afghanistan, as some congressional Republicans have proposed, would be “a grave mistake.”
“I certainly appreciate the tight budget environment we find ourselves in,” she said in a speech at the Asia Society in New York. “But the fact is that these civilian operations are crucial to our national security.”
Clinton said the upcoming 10th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S. should remind people not to imperil the efforts made to prevent terrorism from returning to the U.S., including foreign aid.
Clinton argued that peace-building and development in conflict zones saves the U.S. money and lives. While some in Congress “question whether we need anything more than guns, bombs and troops to achieve our goals in Afghanistan,” she said, that is a short-sighted view.
In Iraq, she said, “the transition to a civilian-led mission is helping the Pentagon save $45 billion,” while the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development need “an increase of only $4 billion” to lead Iraq operations next year, she said. “That’s a good deal by any standard.”
In a nearly hour-long speech, Clinton sought to reassure Americans that the enduring U.S. military presence in the region will end, while simultaneously pledging to Afghans and Pakistanis that U.S. commitment to the region will not falter.
“Afghans must take responsibility for their own future -- for providing security, for strengthening governance and for reaching a political solution to the conflict,” she said. Clinton underscored President Barack Obama’s promise that a drawdown of U.S. troops will begin in July, continue based on conditions there, and “be completed by the end of 2014.”
At the same time, she insisted, “the United States is not walking away from this region. We will not repeat the mistakes of the past.” A prevailing criticism in South and Central Asia is that the U.S. abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviet occupation ended in 1989, allowing the rise of factionalism and Islamic fundamentalism.
Clinton has named Marc Grossman, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey who served in Pakistan early in his career, as the new special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, replacing Richard C. Holbrooke, who died last December, and in whose honor Clinton delivered her remarks today.
Clinton said the first two elements of the Obama administration’s strategy announced in late 2009 - to launch a military and civilian surge by sending 30,000 more U.S. troops and 1,110 additional aid workers and diplomats to Afghanistan - have set the stage for a third phase: “to support an Afghan-led political process to split the weakened Taliban off from al-Qaeda and reconcile those who will renounce violence.”
The secretary of state praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai for convening “a broad-based peace jirga,” or tribal gathering, in June that set a framework for national reconciliation. She called on his government to do more to fight corruption and safeguard the rights of women and minorities.
Next month in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Clinton said more than 40 members of the International Contact Group for Afghanistan will meet to discuss efforts at peace-making with Afghan leaders of the High Peace Council. Days later, ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization will meet in Paris to review plans to transfer security duties from NATO to Afghan forces.
“NATO has pledged an enduring military and financial commitment to Afghanistan that will extend beyond the completion of transition in 2014,” she said. Likewise, she insisted, the U.S. “commitment is real and it is rock-solid.”
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