BRUSSELS, Belgium - President Bush plans to ask Congress for $10.6 billion in aid for Afghanistan, primarily to beef up the country's security forces, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.
The aid request comes in advance of what is expected to be another spring offensive by resurgent forces linked to the Taliban, the former rulers of Afghanistan. In Washington, the Pentagon announced that it was delaying the departure of a 3,200-soldier combat brigade from Afghanistan for as long as three months, increasing the number of U.S. troops in the country to about 24,000.
The aid request includes $8.6 billion for training and equipping Afghan security forces. The money would go toward increasing the size of Afghanistan's national army by 70,000 and its local police forces by 82,000, a senior U.S. official said.
An additional $2 billion would go to reconstruction projects such as road-building, laying down electric power lines, and developing rural areas, administration officials said. The officials said that they planned to use some of the money to help Afghanistan and Pakistan battle the Taliban and other insurgents along the border between the two countries.
President Bush is expected to make a formal request for the funds next month, after a year in which Taliban forces have carried out fierce attacks across the country, particularly in the south.
"The challenges of the last several months have demonstrated that we want to and we should redouble our efforts," Rice told reporters aboard her flight to Brussels for a NATO meeting on Afghanistan.
The announcement of more aid and troops for Afghanistan came after Bush's announcement two weeks ago that he was sending 21,500 additional troops to Iraq.
The troops that are to remain longer in Afghanistan, from the Third Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division, will provide commanders with more forces ahead of the expected spring offensive by the Taliban. The unit had been scheduled to return to the United States next month.
In a statement, the Army said the additional forces were necessary to "deny the Taliban a base of operations."
Because another battalion is scheduled to leave Afghanistan shortly, the actual increase in U.S. troop numbers as a result of holding over the 3,500-member brigade will be about 2,500, said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.
The increase comes as the Bush administration is renewing pressure on its European allies to increase their troop commitments in Afghanistan. It is aimed at quelling European concerns that the United States might soon draw down its force in Afghanistan to meet its growing troop commitments in Iraq.
British, Canadian and Dutch troops have at times since last summer been engaged in intense combat in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban's heartland.
Rebuffing months of U.S. pressure, Afghan President Hamid Karzai decided against a Colombia-style program to spray heroin- producing poppies after the cabinet worried herbicide would hurt legitimate crops, animals and people, officials said yesterday.
The decision, reportedly made Sunday, dashes U.S. hopes for mounting a campaign using ground sprayers to poison poppy plants to help fight the Afghan opium trade after a record crop in 2006.
Karzai instead "made a very strong commitment" to lead other eradication efforts this year and said that, if that didn't cut production, he would allow spraying in 2008, a Western official said on condition of anonymity.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Counternarcotics, Said Mohammad Azam, said that this year's effort would rely on "traditional techniques" - sending laborers into fields to trample or plow under opium poppies. A similar campaign in 2006 failed.
Fueled by the Taliban, a drug mafia, and poor farmers' need for a profitable crop that can overcome drought, opium production from poppies in Afghanistan last year rose 49 percent to 6,700 tons - enough to make 670 tons of heroin.