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US Official Reaffirms Need for Afghanistan Society Building

By Steve Herman
New Delhi
04 September 2009

It has been about six months since the Obama Administration unveiled a new strategy boosting efforts to rebuild Afghan civil society. That is part of a comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. A top State Department official is acknowledging the need to show real progress soon.

A senior U.S. official acknowledges the clock is ticking on showing the effectiveness of America's multibillion dollar attempt to rebuild Afghanistan. The effort has been deemed a foreign policy priority of the Obama administration.

The Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, Jack Lew, on a visit to India, spoke with a small group of Indian and American reporters in the capital. He told them it is critical to continue the effort to transfer skills and tools to Afghans so foreigners do not need to have a permanent presence there.

"It is a challenge after just a few months of implementation to be able to speak with confidence about when these things will occur," said Lew. "But the president has been clear, the Administration has been clear that there's a need for demonstrable progress on a short order."

The deputy secretary, who is the State Department's chief operating officer, adds that Congress and the administration itself will hold those responsible accountable to show a difference is being made in Afghanistan.

Programs underway include training the Afghan National Army and police, as well as building capacity in Afghan government ministries. President Obama, in late March, outlined a comprehensive plan to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida in order to bring security to Afghanistan and to construct a civil infrastructure.

Lew says these efforts "address a direct threat to the United States." The deputy secretary is to visit Afghanistan next week. His trip comes at a critical time with the results of the country's presidential election still uncertain and worries a disputed outcome, due to allegations of widespread ballot box stuffing, could spark further civil violence.

The White House is now reviewing strategic recommendations made by the top U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal. Details are confidential but they are believed to include the possibility of adding more troops to the already 60 thousand Americans in uniform deployed there in the eight-year old war.

This comes at a time when opinion polls show dropping support among Americans for the military effort in Afghanistan, where Afghan, American and NATO coalition forces together are fighting the Taliban.

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