Rice pledges boost in aid to Afghanistan

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN — KABUL, Afghanistan -- Returning to an Afghanistan yesterday troubled anew by insurgent attacks and civilian unrest, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promised additional U.S. financial support and a new focus on small-scale projects designed to improve daily life more quickly than sweeping reconstruction efforts could.

Rice said Afghanistan continues to face "strong enemies, and they're ruthless," but that Islamist militants would "not succeed in rolling back ... the democratic gains" achieved since the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001.


Her five-hour visit offered a public demonstration of the Bush administration's efforts to reassure a nation that has moved from initial optimism after the Taliban's downfall to expectations of tangible improvements from the U.S.-supported government of President Hamid Karzai.

Rice visited Afghanistan in October, then again on March 1 with President Bush in a surprise stop on his way to Pakistan and India. Since then, an insurgent rocket has landed near the U.S. Embassy, fighting has flared in southern Afghanistan, and dissatisfaction with the Karzai government has erupted in riots.


The secretary of state offered multiple expressions of confidence in Karzai's ability to gain an upper hand and referred to the country's movement toward democracy over the past 4 1/2 years, tempered by passing acknowledgment of Afghanistan's daunting problems.

She said the government is facing "ruthless people who raped and pillaged and tried to destroy the country."

"There are a small number of them who are still trying to destroy the country, but they will not succeed," Rice said at a news conference with Karzai in a garden of the presidential palace.

Increased insurgent attacks have coincided with the approaching deployment of NATO troops. The British, Canadian and Dutch forces are scheduled to take over from U.S. units in southern Afghanistan. This month, NATO defense ministers reaffirmed their plan to send 7,000 troops to the region by the fall.

Karzai met for more than hour with Rice, who flew to Afghanistan from Islamabad, Pakistan, on her way to Moscow for a conference of foreign ministers of the Group of Eight and a meeting with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

Emergency spending legislation that Bush signed recently would provide $43 million for Afghanistan. The money that Rice offered would be in addition to that.

James Gerstenzang writes for the Los Angeles Times.