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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aid to Afghanistan Will Continue, Donors Say

LONDON -- Envoys from nearly 70 nations and international bodies vowed Tuesday to keep up the flow of support to Afghanistan, which is still plagued by violence and poverty more than four years after the fall of the Taliban.

Speaking at the start of the two-day meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said presidential administration planned to ask Congress for $1.1 billion in aid for Afghanistan next year -- a figure similar to aid for 2006.

"The transformation of Afghanistan is remarkable but incomplete," Rice said in opening remarks. "And it is essential that we all increase our support for the Afghan people."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that seeing Afghanistan become a stable democracy was "in the interests of the whole international community."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are among those attending the meeting, which is expected to produce a five-year blueprint for the troubled central Asian nation's security, economic development and counter-narcotic efforts.

Billions of dollars in aid have brought new hospitals, clinics and roads to Afghanistan since the Taliban were toppled by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001. School enrollment has soared from 900,000 to 5 million and many of the new students are girls, who had been barred by the hard-line Islamic regime from attending classes.

But most Afghans remain mired in poverty, and the country still has some of the highest mortality rates in the world. Many have grown frustrated with the aid effort, complaining that much of the money from abroad has been wasted.

Security remains a major problem.

About 1,600 people were killed last year in militant violence, including 91 U.S. troops, making 2005 the deadliest year since 2001. The past four months have seen an unprecedented spate of 20 suicide bombings, raising fears of further bloodshed.

The fighting has left parts of southern and eastern regions off-limits to aid workers, while a series of attacks on schools -- including three burned down last week and a principal beheaded earlier this month -- have forced many to close.

Karzai insisted that the higher death toll was "not because things have got worse, but because the terrorists have gone and attacked civilians."

The booming trade in opium and heroin is another major challenge for Karzai's government. Afghanistan is the source of nearly 90 percent of the world's opium and heroin, and many warn that it is fast becoming a "narco-state." In an interview on BBC radio, Karzai said it would take "realistically from 10 to 15 years" to eliminate poppy production.

The development plan to be unveiled at the conference, called the "Afghanistan Compact," is likely to set targets for Karzai's government in areas including tackling corruption, fighting narcotics, reducing poverty and disbanding illegal militias.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said Monday that Moscow would forgive the $10 billion in Soviet-era debt owed to it by Afghanistan, Russian media reported.