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INTERVIEW - Afghan envoy sees security handover in five years
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghanistan is confident additional U.S. troops and resources to be announced next week will enable security to be transferred to the Afghans within three to five years, said Afghanistan's envoy to Washington on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama is set on Tuesday to unveil a revised strategy for the unpopular Afghan war, with at least 30,000 more U.S. troops expected to be sent to Afghanistan.
Afghanistan's ambassador to the United States, Said Jawad, declined to speculate on U.S. troop levels but said they would quicken the handing over of security responsibility.
"This assistance will enable us fully to take the security responsibility within three to five years," Jawad said in an interview with Reuters..
He did not know whether Obama would include such a timeline in his speech on Tuesday, but he said both sides had discussed this timetable and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said he is confident this goal will be met in five years.
How quickly U.S. forces could draw down, was dependent, however, on a variety of regional factors, including whether Pakistan cooperated in tackling the Taliban, said Jawad.
Complications such as heightened U.S.-Iran tensions could also affect any timetable for U.S. withdrawal. "There are many factors that determine the duration of the U.S. mission."
What was important, he said, was not the number of additional U.S. forces but how they were used.
"Sometimes one battalion of fully-equipped and trained troops for special operations can do the job of more than two or three battalions that don't have the proper equipment to work in the terrain or are restrained by caveats."
A big part of the new U.S. strategy will be adding more U.S. military trainers and Jawad said there were also discussions on how to boost Afghan police and army recruits, including salary hikes to attract candidates.
There were also plans, he said, to improve Afghanistan's air transport capability as well as increase heavy weaponry. He did not provide details.
The U.S. military focus is expected to be on securing major population centers, raising fears, said Jawad, that more rural areas would become less secure and supply routes to the Taliban not disrupted.
The envoy, who returned from Kabul late on Tuesday, said he had personally asked U.S. national security advisor Jim Jones about this potential vacuum and how it would be filled.
"We were given assurances that while some of the outposts might not be manned ... there will be better use of technology to look at the supply routes," he said, including more aerial surveillance.
The Obama administration is setting specific conditions for civilian aid, with the threat of pulling funds if corruption is not tackled by Karzai, who was re-elected after a fraud-marred election and whose record in tackling corruption is poor.
Jawad said the Obama and Karzai governments have been working on a draft document listing benchmarks on both sides, with the focus on governance, rule of law and security issues.
"This one has a lot of specific benchmarks and the mutual expectations the two governments have for each other."
Jawad said he hoped the U.S. president's speech on Tuesday would explain in detail both to the American people and to the U.S. Congress why it was important for U.S. forces to be there.
"Without an active advocacy effort we continue to lose public support," he said.
(Editing by Sandra Maler)
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