| GEO World|
| Obama Afghan strategy not just about bullets, bombs|
| Updated at: 0302 PST, Saturday, March 28, 2009|
WASHINGTON: The new Afghan war strategy unveiled Friday by US President Barack Obama goes beyond "bullets and bombs" to a plan to overhaul international economic and political aid to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Dismissing past aid efforts as ill-organized and underfunded, it calls for a civilian surge in Afghanistan to match the military one as well as for a 7.5 billion dollar development plan and special economic zones for Pakistan.
"We need agricultural specialists and educators, engineers and lawyers," Obama said. "That's how we can help the Afghan government serve its people and develop an economy that isn't dominated by illicit drugs."
Proceeds from opium poppy sales, officials say, fuel the Taliban insurgency against the US-backed government in Kabul of President Hamid Karzai.
Obama said he is "ordering a substantial increase" in US civilians to the war zone, with administration officials pledging that the State Department and other government agencies will recruit hundreds of civilian experts for Afghanistan.
He added that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will ask other countries and international aid groups to contribute to the civilian surge when she attends a UN-led conference on Afghanistan on Tuesday in The Hague.
Obama said "it's tempting to believe that we can short change the civilian effort" during an economic crisis but he warned that "our efforts will fail in Afghanistan and Pakistan if we don't invest in their future."
His proposed budget calls for increased funding for the State Department and US Agency for International Development, both of which Clinton heads.
"It's far cheaper to train a policeman to secure his or her own village or to help a farmer seed a crop than it is to send our troops to fight tour after tour of duty with no transition to Afghan responsibility," Obama said.
The president added that his budget will provide for stronger government accounting of the aid money.