As US troops withdraw, assistance will focus on Afghan sustainability, sovereignty

KABUL – U.S. officials on Tuesday said they will shift their development priorities from quick-impact stability programs run by international agencies to infrastructure and economic growth projects that can be run by Afghans over the long term.

The description of the shift comes as President Barack Obama prepares to announce the withdrawal of thousands of troops from Afghanistan.

U.S. officials speaking at a background briefing at the Kabul embassy said hydroelectric dams, roads, gas fields, mines, and increased agricultural production will be the focus of their efforts as the end of 2014 approaches, the president’s promised deadline for the withdrawal of all combat troops.

The U.S. troop withdrawal will be coupled with a reorganization and reduction of western civilians working in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. By the end of 2014, all provincial reconstruction teams and smaller district level mentoring teams will close and U.S. development officials will withdraw to four consulate offices and the large American embassy in Kabul.

The transition to full Afghan control will begin in earnest on July 20th in five provincial capital cities and two provinces.

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U.S. and Afghan officials will convene a two-day conference on June 29 to work out the details of the first group of transition areas. U.S. officials at the embassy briefing said that each province is developing specific plans that take account of their particular security challenges, infrastructure, demographics, and institutional strength.

According to a draft copy of The Helmand Plan, for example, development and security programs will focus in the southern province will be on improving agriculture, linking cities and markets with new roads, and a 33-megawatt hydroelectric dam in the town of Kajaki.

Other transition areas will be identified by August, U.S. officials said.

The officials described the move toward transition as a “paradigm shift” and “evolutionary.”

The U.S. has more than 400 civilians working on development projects in 80 locations in Afghanistan.

The officials said that military operations will also become more focused and less ambitious.

Afghan security forces and judicial institutions are expected to take up many aspects of the counterinsurgency fight by establishing rule of law and respect for government institutions. Those institutions will be vital, even in 2014, the officials said.

“By 2014, there will be probably at least a low-level insurgency they’re fighting in this country,” said one U.S. official. “They’re going to be fighting narcotrafficking gangs. There’s going to be violence in the country.”

Violence is still the main concern.

At least seven people died in two separate attacks Tuesday.

A suicide bomber targeted Abdul Basir Salangi, the governor of the northern province of Parwan, as his car passed Tuesday. Salangi was unharmed, according to the Interior Ministry, but two other people were killed, including a 14-year-old girl.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack in a text message to the Associated Press.

And insurgents in Shindand district in the western province of Herat, killed a local police commander, three of his guards, and a civilian bystander in a drive-by shooting on Tuesday, according to Shindand district governor Abdul Nadim Bhadori. At least two insurgents shot out of the windows of a white Toyota Corolla and sped away, Bhadori said.

On Monday, two NATO service members were killed during insurgent attacks in eastern Afghanistan. Forty-two coalition soldiers have died so far this month. The international alliance released no other details about the deaths.

Also on Monday, insurgents in the Shegal district in the eastern province of Kunar were repelled as they attacked a government building, said district police chief Ewaz Mohammad. Thirteen insurgents were killed, the Mohammad said, and two Afghan soldiers were wounded.

In the Gizab district of southern Uruzgan province, a roadside bomb killed two Afghan policemen and wounded a third, according provincial police chief Fazal Ahmad Sherzad.

And a joint operation of Afghan national police and NATO troops in Tarim Kot district in Uruzgan killed four suspected Taliban insurgents, Sherzad said.

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Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan and Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Afghanistan contributed to this report.

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