June 12, 2008
Pg. 4 Afghanistan 'is broke,' he says
By Jeffrey Stinson, USA Today
ROME — Afghan President Hamid Karzai goes to a conference in Paris today with his hand out because, as President Bush puts it, the strife-torn country "is broke."
Bush, who arrived in Rome on Wednesday, and first lady Laura Bush are also acting as Afghanistan's chief fundraisers.
Karzai is asking the United States, Europe and world development banks for $50 billion over the next five years to rebuild his country, seven years after the U.S. invasion to oust Taliban extremists who ruled the country and sheltered al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Laura Bush, who made a surprise visit to Afghanistan last week, will be at the Paris conference to plead on behalf of the embattled nation.
The president, on a week-long farewell tour of Europe, has been pushing the need for more troops in Afghanistan as he met Tuesday in Slovenia with leaders of the European Union and on Wednesday in Germany with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Bush is likely to make similar pitches for additional troops while in Italy and France.
The request comes as Afghanistan is seeing a Taliban resurgence. More people were killed in Taliban-related attacks last year — 8,000 — than in any year since the 2001 invasion, the United Nations said.
Afghanistan is "the biggest strategic challenge facing the West today," said Alan Mendoza, executive director of the Henry Jackson Society, a pro-democracy think tank in London. "The battle has to be won."
Mendoza said Afghanistan needs more troops from NATO countries plus economic aid to keep from sliding backward. Many NATO nations remain reluctant to commit troops. The United States sent 3,200 Marines in April to bolster the numbers.
On Wednesday in Meseberg, Germany, Bush lauded Merkel for sending 3,370 troops to Afghanistan, though not to combat zones.
"I know this is a controversial subject here," Bush said during a news conference with Merkel. "But I hope when the Afghanistan debates go forward, I hope people here think of young girls who couldn't go to school in the past but now can, or think of mothers who bring their babies to health clinics for the first time."
Bush also discussed pressuring Iran to stop its nuclear enrichment program. He said that if diplomacy fails to deter Iran, "all options are on the table."
The president's remark, in which he didn't rule out a pre-emptive military strike against Iran, came after a private meeting with Merkel.
Bush and Merkel said that diplomatic efforts led by Europe were the first course of action.
Merkel didn't go quite as far as Bush in her comments. "I very clearly pin my hopes on diplomatic efforts," she said.
Judy Ansley, Bush's chief aide on Europe, said Bush and Merkel did not discuss a military option in their meetings, only the diplomatic route.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Bush "won't be able to harm even 1 centimeter of the sacred land of Iran" and promised continued defiance over Iran's nuclear activities. Iran says it is enriching uranium to generate electricity, not build a bomb.