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Development aid vital for Afghanistan, top NATO official says

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — President Obama's plan to nearly double American troop numbers in Afghanistan needs to be matched by a similar surge in development workers and aid funding, NATO's top official said Thursday.

In a sign of the tough fight there, NATO and Afghan troops earlier in the day killed up to 22 militants in airstrikes and ground battles near the Afghan border with Pakistan, officials said.

The U.S. has about 33,000 soldiers in Afghanistan battling a resurgent Taliban, and Obama is expected to send up to 30,000 more this year as his administration shifts its focus from the war in Iraq to the Afghan conflict.

Speaking in Pakistan, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said the new troops will take the fight to "places where it was not, or insufficiently, possible up till now."

Scheffer said other NATO allies should also boost troop levels in Afghanistan if possible, but also increase the number of civilian experts to help with reconstruction and development in a country brought to its knees by decades of war.

"I do see the need for the military surge President Obama is proposing, but it should be met with a civilian surge," he told reporters. "Let us not be under the illusion that extra U.S. force (alone) will do the trick."

In a message posted Thursday on Islamic militant sites on the Web, the Taliban's political committee said Obama should rethink his plans for sending more troops to Afghanistan, according to SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors militant Web sites.

"It is understood by this that the new American administration wants to continue the same path as the painful (President George W.) Bush plan, which led to the besmirching of America's reputation and the provoking of hatred and international anger toward the American people."

Development aid vital for Afghanistan, top NATO official says 01/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 11:01pm]

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