By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
March 31, 2009 - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton opened the first day of talks at the International Conference in Support of Afghanistan today calling for renewed, but patient international support for the country, emphasizing that success or failure there will have far-reaching impacts across the globe. "The range of countries and institutions represented here is a universal recognition that what happens in Afghanistan matters to us all," Clinton said. "Our failure to bring peace and progress would be a setback not only to the people of Afghanistan, but to the entire enterprise of collective action in the interest of collective security."
Clinton joined representatives from more than 80 countries and international groups at the conference in The Hague, Netherlands, aimed at jump-starting political support for Afghanistan.
Clinton said a new strategy must integrate military and civilian efforts. But, she acknowledged, security in the region is an essential first step.
In the wake of President Barack Obama's announced plans to deploy 17,000 more U.S. soldiers and 4,000 additional military trainers, Clinton called on the international community to step up with more military resources. She specifically asked that each army and police unit in Afghanistan be partnered with an international mentoring force. Clinton said the goal should be to stand up an Afghan army of at least 134,000 soldiers and a police force of at least 82,000 officers by 2011.
The secretary also pushed for more help in rebuilding the country's critical infrastructure such as roads, public buildings, schools and hospitals, and she called for an emphasis on redeveloping Afghan's once-thriving agricultural-based economy.
"The United States is focusing its efforts on rural development in provinces near the Afghan-Pakistan border, and we hope that others gathered here will heed the ... call for help throughout the country with job creation, technical expertise, vocational training, and investments in roads, electrical transmission lines, education, health care, and so much else," Clinton said.
The secretary of state also announced a U.S. commitment for $40 million to help fund Afghanistan's upcoming elections.
Clinton added that reconciliation should be offered to enemy fighters who no longer want to side against the Afghan government.
"We must also support efforts by the government of Afghanistan to separate the extremists of al-Qaida and the Taliban from those who joined their ranks not out of conviction, but out of desperation," Clinton said. "They should be offered an honorable form of reconciliation and reintegration into a peaceful society if they are willing to abandon violence, break with al-Qaida, and support the constitution."
Clinton said the challenges facing Afghanistan are regional, and she called on its neighbors to support efforts there. The secretary said success in the country will provide a blueprint for "a new diplomacy powered by partnership and premised on shared interests."