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Published:August 3rd, 2007 04:45 EST
Boucher says U.S. working to help free South Korean hostages

Boucher says U.S. working to help free South Korean hostages

By SOP newswire

Washington -- Ahead of Afghan President Hamid Karzai`s meetings with President Bush, a senior State Department official says Afghans and their government have a lot ¦ to be proud of " in terms of their accomplishments since the 2002 overthrow of the Taliban regime.

Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher said August 2 that enormous strides have been made in the country over the past five years. 

[W]e`ve built roads and highways, brought down infant mortality rates, put 5 million kids in school ¦ [and the] economy has achieved very healthy growth rates. "  Other accomplishments include the construction of the country`s ring road, the building of electricity grids and the extension of health care to 85 percent of the population.

Afghanistan is in a much better position now than it ever was before as a nation, " Boucher said.

He said President Karzai and other Afghan officials will have a series of meetings with President Bush at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, August 4-5.

It`s a high-level discussion of strategy with and accomplishments and goals between two leaders of partner nations, nations that are strategically linked and that work very closely together, " he said.

Boucher added that the talks present a chance for the United States to make clear once again that U.S. support for Afghanistan is strong, it is strategic and it is steadfast. "

The Bush administration has given $10.1 billion for the 2007 fiscal year to help jump-start and provide equipment for programs such as police and military training.  The administration has requested $4.7 billion for the 2008 fiscal year, and Boucher said the decrease in funds reflects more normal but higher levels of sustainable support. "

The assistant secretary said it is unfortunate " that Taliban rebels are turning more frequently to pure terror tactics such as bombings, killings and kidnappings, and said that shift was a result of their inability to take control of towns and territory in Afghanistan.

[T]hey find it more and more difficult to work with people who live in Afghanistan because in the end those people want stability and they want safety, and they want justice, and they want opportunity, " he said.

The United States is working closely with the governments of Afghanistan and South Korea to help secure the release of South Korean hostages held by the Taliban, Boucher said.  Two of the 23 hostages have been killed since they were seized July 19.

[T]he goal is to get these people released unharmed, to get them released peacefully and safely, and we`ll all make efforts together to try to encourage that, try to make that happen, " he said, but added that the focus and pressure should be on the Taliban who are the ones who`ve done this terrible thing. "

The Taliban also are linked clearly to the country`s continuing narcotics trade and earning profits from the networks that are perpetuating it.  "We did see in the springtime that the Taliban in some areas gave their fighters a month off to go harvest poppy, " Boucher said.

Even though poppy production likely will be as high in 2007 as it was in 2006, it is decreasing in the areas where the Afghan government has control.  It`s more and more concentrated in the areas of insecurity. The tie between insecurity and poppy production is more and more clear. "

As the Afghan government takes control of more of the country, we can look to start really beating back the poppy problem, not just containing it, " Boucher said.

Furthermore, the U.S. government devoted $600 million in 2006 to address the narcotics problem.  Helmand province, where much of the production is, receives a very large portion of assistance, " Boucher stated. 

For more information on U.S. policies, see Rebuilding Afghanistan.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

By Stephen Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer