As a donors' conference for Afghanistan begins in London on Tuesday, the United States is calling on other countries to step up to the plate and share part of the burden in rebuilding the war-torn country.
Afghanistan is going to need international help for a long while
The United States has been Afghanistan's biggest donor since leading the war that toppled the Taliban four years ago, but it now wants others to bear more of the "burden," US and European officials say.
Bargaining over who should shoulder the financial aid, on which the country will be dependent for a while yet, has intensified in the past months and will be taken up at the London conference.
The United States has disbursed close to $5 billion (4.1 billion euros) in this war-torn country since 2001.
US soldiers in Afghanistan
"They think they are paying too much for Afghanistan compared to the others and that the cost of the war against terrorism, a global threat, should be shared," a World Bank official said, according to AFP news service.
"The subject is under discussion," a US diplomat in Kabul told AFP. "But it is clear that we would like the 'Afghan burden' to be shared, notably at the multilateral level."
Military help n eeded
On the military side, there has already been some headway with NATO countries to boost their force in the insurgency-hit country by about 6,000 extra soldiers in the coming months.
Britain announced last week it will send 3,300 troops as part of a major new three-year mission to bring NATO peacekeepers to southern Afghanistan, without waiting for European allies who have so far failed to commit.
The troops will take over from the US-dominated coalition in the south and east, the most unstable parts of the country, allowing Washington to pare its deployment by about more than 2,000 as announced in December by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
"No one can afford to see a destabilized Afghanistan," UN chief Kofi Annan warned after a brief, unscheduled meeting with Prime Minister Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands, which is hesitating over whether to send more troops there.
Karzai wa n ts to ma n age aid
During a visit Sunday to Denmark, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that Afghanistan would need international aid for 5 years, 10 years or even longer if it is to bolster its security and rebuild its institutions.
Karzai with Danish Premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Sunday
Karzai also called for more money to be put directly into the hands of the Afghan government.
Apart from being the biggest contributor to the military operation, the United States also made up two thirds of the reconstruction aid sent to the country in 2005.
While the international community, for which Afghanistan is far from the only priority, would want to make the country self-sufficient as soon as possible, it is clear the road ahead will be a long one.
Lo n g road ahead
Ravaged by 25 years of war, the fledgling democracy has few of its own resources to rely on.
Factories like this one that produces raisins can't contribute much to Afghanistan's budget
Last year only seven percent of the Afghan budget was financed by the government through about $330 million in domestic revenues, generated for the most part through tariffs. About 90 percent of the rest came from international donors, notably the United States.
The "Afghanistan Compact" to be signed in London by the country's 70 donor nations and aid groups sets the target of raising the domestic budgetary revenue to 8 percent of gross domestic product by 2010-11, compared to the current 4.5 percent.
The United States, which directs two thirds of its aid to Afghanistan towards security, is meanwhile also funding nearly the entire cost of rebuilding the Afghan police and army.
This is also likely to be a long-term endeavor, with an official with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) estimating a desertion rate of 30 percent.
Katri n a , Iraq , deficit o n US' mi n d
"In the discussions we have today, the Americans systematically try to push security expenditure into the general budget, which is financed by several countries," a European official told AFP.
US officials say the also have to take care of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina
"It should not be forgotten that we have (Hurricane) Katrina, Iraq and a worrying deficit," a US diplomat who asked not to be named told AFP.
The United States said on Jan. 27 it would announce a big financial aid package for Afghanistan at the conference.
But a European official said: "In the end, their assistance is more likely to drop from 2006 onwards."
Meeting with Karzai in London Monday, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday that Washington remains committed to helping Afghanistan.
"It is true that there are some adjustments being made as the requirements change in different parts of the country but the United States will continue to fight the counterterrorism threat wherever we find it," she said.
"We made the mistake once before of leaving Afghanistan and not only did Afghans pay for it, Americans paid for it on Sept. 11. We're not going to make that mistake again."