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US to triple number of civilian officials in Afghanistan

October 27, 2009 00:56 IST

The US is quietly going ahead with its plan of a civilian surge in Afghanistan for more than tripling the numbers in less than a year, even as a final call is awaited from the White House on sending thousands of more troops to the war-torn country.

From just 320 civilians in January this year, when the Obama administration took over, the number of civilian officials in Afghanistan is all set to cross the 974 authorised position by the end of the year and another 300 are expected to be added in the next couple of months thereafter.

"These are lawyers, agronomists, diplomats, development specialists and others," Deputy Secretary of State Jacob Lew told the State Department Press Corps in a special Afghan briefing on Monday. The objective, he said, is capacity building, economic development and good governance, as the country needs to stand on its own feet.

To every civilian official, from various departments like the department of agriculture, department of justice, state department and the United States Agency for International Development, being dispatched from the United States, it adds another 10 locals hired either individually or through non-governmental organisations.

Lew said these civilians, though highly concentrated in and around Kabul have started moving to provinces as the US military clears up the areas.

"It supports the agriculture programmes, the rule-of-law programmes, the governance programmes, and our presence, our physical presence, on the ground," he said.

"To go to a local area, in Helmand... where the clearing operations over the summer were quite aggressive, the civilian deployment was moving with the military into place. There were about two civilians in Helmand before; there were 20 when the military went in," Lew said.

He said there would be roughly around USD 6 billion (nearly Rs 280 billion) in the pipeline for the civilian component.

"There are a lot of places where the military has not gone in yet, and we're not going to deploy the civilians ahead of the military. You know, our concern was to get people there when they need to be there, but not to get them to Kabul to be waiting to be deployed to the field for weeks before military was ready for them," Lew said in response to a question.

Given the capacity of the federal Afghan government, he said, it would be difficult for Kabul to put in place the developmental efforts without civilian help from the US.
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