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Afghanistan says needs billions long after troops go

By Reuters
Saturday, December 3, 2011 6:45 EDT
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KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s international backers must not cut funding to Kabul to the degree that it forces the government to choose between spending less on security or development, the finance minister said on Saturday.

A World Bank study released last month said Afghanistan was likely to need around $7 billion a year from the international community to help pay its security and other bills long after foreign troops leave at the end of 2014.

“The World Bank’s study makes a case for continued assistance,” Finance Minister Omar Zakhilwal said, speaking from the German city of Bonn. “We have done our own analysis and our conclusion with regard to the fiscal gap is not too different from the World Bank’s.”

Asking Kabul to cut spending on security forces would risk allowing the Taliban-led insurgents to make a comeback, while if services such as health and education were reduced instead, that could indirectly bolster support for the insurgency.

“What they are saying is, these are not options that the Afghan government should be pushed into, we have to know the consequences of pushing the government into these choices,” Zakhilwal told Reuters.

Without foreign help, Afghanistan would not be able to pay for its army and police after 2014, currently estimated as a 352,000-man force after the pullout.

“Post-2014, the current level of the security forces is not sustainable for Afghanistan because of the cost,” he said. “In the longer term, (the size of) our security force will come down.”

With an economic crisis gripping Europe, smaller budgets in the United States, and electorates weary of a decade-long war, Western politicians want to spend much less on Afghanistan, without letting the country descend into civil war.

Aid, which in 2011 was nearly $16 billion, will decline along with troop numbers as the West scales down its presence in Afghanistan. But the United States and its allies face a serious financial burden for many years after the official end of combat operations.

Without detailing levels of foreign assistance required, or the finance ministry’s own budget projections, the minister said Afghanistan expected to bring in more revenue from mining projects, trade and transit, and more efficient collection of taxes.

On Monday, Bonn will host a major international conference about the future of Afghanistan.

“What we want to get out of this (conference) is strong, believable political statements from our partners (of) long-term support for development and security,” Zakhilwal said.

“I do expect strong, believable statements of support.”

Despite the presence of tens of thousands of Western forces in Afghanistan, the United Nations and other groups say violence is at its worst since U.S.-led Afghan forces toppled the Taliban from power in late 2001.

NATO-led forces say they have seen a decline over recent months in attacks launched by insurgents against their troops.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

Mochila insert follows.

Reuters
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