Afghanistan aid spending boost expected to be announced

Andrew Mitchell: "We will not balance the books on the backs of the poorest people in the world"

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UK spending on Afghanistan aid projects is set to rise by 40% in efforts to hasten the withdrawal of troops from the country.

International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell is to say securing progress there is his top priority.

The government has already committed £500m on projects in Afghanistan over the next five years.

Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Liam Fox has restated a target of removing combat forces from the country by 2014.

The £7.3bn international development budget is one of only two Whitehall budgets - along with health - set to be protected from far-reaching spending cuts being imposed by the Treasury.

Britain currently gives aid to about 90 countries, but Mr Mitchell has already said that after an ongoing review some countries, such as China and Russia, will no longer receive it.

He told the Politics Show on Sunday that India was "roaring out of poverty" and would be looked at very closely.

'Well-spent aid'

It is believed the money for Afghanistan would be used to stabilise the most insecure areas, with more policing, emergency food and medicine, and thousands of job and training opportunities.

Mr Mitchell also wants to boost education, with an aim of getting six million children into school within two years.

He told the Politics Show the government had been looking "very carefully" at the way money was being spent in Afghanistan.

"We've found some additional funding from less good programmes, so in principle we have an additional 40% money going into the development budget," he said.

On Monday, Mr Mitchell will give a speech saying that aid is an essential part of efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan.

The minister is expected to say that "well-spent aid" is in the UK's interest because it promotes political progress and supports the military's work to bring security and peace to the country.

"The UK is there to prevent the Afghan territory from again being used by al-Qaeda as a base from which to plan attacks on the UK and our allies," he will say.

"While the military bring much-needed security, peace will only be achieved by political progress backed by development.

"I am determined to back up the efforts of our armed forces as we work towards a withdrawal of combat troops."

Shadow International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander called on the minister to clarify exactly how the aid money would be spent.

He said: "Thanks to the efforts of the last government, the UK was already the second-largest donor to Afghanistan and Helmand is already amongst the most heavily aided regions on earth.

"The primary challenge in those areas affected by the insurgency has not been a lack of money but a lack of security.

"At a time when there remain serious questions about corruption across Afghanistan, Andrew Mitchell must explain more clearly than he has to date how this cash will be spent effectively to secure the outcomes he seeks."

'Conditions-based transition'

Meanwhile, it has been reported that Afghan President Hamid Karzai will use a forthcoming international conference to publish a blueprint for the withdrawal of international troops by 2014.

Leaked documents show a timetable for a "conditions-based and phased transition" to Afghan forces taking control of military operations, starting within months, the Independent on Sunday said.

Last month Prime Minister David Cameron said he wanted troops home by the time of the next general election - set to be in May 2015.

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox refused to comment on the Independent on Sunday's report during an interview on the Andrew Marr Show.

However, he said 2014 was the existing target date in the military strategy for the handover of security control to Afghan forces.

"It has always been our aim to be successful in the mission, and the mission has always said that the Afghan national security forces would be able to deal with their own security by 2014," he said.

But he said only combat troops would be expected to be withdrawn at that time, with a continued presence likely for training.

Mr Cameron's aim of 2015 was "quite conservative by comparison", he said.

British and US forces moved into Afghanistan following the 11 September attacks.

It was widely believed that the al-Qaeda-inspired attacks were masterminded inside Afghanistan, which was then governed by the fundamentalist Taliban.

The UK death toll since operations began in 2001 now stands at 322, with four British serviceman dying since Friday.

Meanwhile, at least three people were killed on Sunday by a suicide bomber in the Afghan capital Kabul.

The bombing came despite heightened security across Kabul ahead of the international conference of foreign ministers on Tuesday.

Foreign Secretary William Hague, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon are among those scheduled to attend.

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