Saturday, February 24, 2018

Afghan, U.S. ties at higher status

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Obama administration has declared Afghanistan a major non-NATO ally of the United States.

The action is meant partly to facilitate defense cooperation after U.S. combat troops withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014 and as a political statement of support for the South Asian country's long-term stability.

On an unannounced visit to Kabul, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the alliance today at the U.S. Embassy. She was to meet later with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The pair will also discuss U.S.-Afghan civilian and defense ties, and stalled Afghan reconciliation efforts.

Clinton will then head to Japan for an international conference at which Afghanistan hopes to secure pledges for about $4 billion in annual aid after the NATO force departs.

Many donors attending the Tokyo conference are wary of big-ticket pledges to Afghanistan because of corruption that has plagued the disbursement of funds intended for humanitarian and development aid. At the gathering, Afghanistan's government is expected to promise greater transparency in how, where and why aid funds are distributed.

International organizations have warned that the Afghan economy could go into a tailspin after a decade in which the great majority of its funding has come from foreign sources. At the conference, Afghan civil society groups are asking that pledges to prop up the central government carry conditions that there are no rollbacks on issues such as women's rights after foreign forces leave.

Foreign aid in the decade since the U.S. invasion in 2001 has led to better education and health care, with nearly 8 million children, including 3 million girls, enrolled in schools. That compares to 1 million children more than a decade ago, when girls were banned from school under the Taliban.

Afghanistan has received nearly $60 billion in international aid since 2002. The World Bank says foreign aid makes up nearly the equivalent of the country's gross domestic product.

Those funds, which are needed for basic services such as health care, education and infrastructure, are expected to sharply diminish after international troops withdraw even as the country faces continued threats from the Taliban and other Islamic militants.

Information from the Associated Press and Los Angeles Times was used in this report.

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