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U.S. civilians may join Afghan buildup

WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) -- Hundreds of U.S. civilians may be sent to Afghanistan in a program to support security, governance and local development, Obama administration officials said.

The new civilian diplomats and specialists from U.S. departments such as Agriculture and Justice, along with hundreds of "full-time, temporary" hires, would work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, the officials said.

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Other civilians would be assigned to U.S. "provincial reconstruction teams" and to other efforts "to build Afghan civilian capacity around the country," The Washington Post reported.

The new civilian force would complement 17,000 new U.S. troops scheduled for deployment this year, bringing the total to about 55,000, administration and Pentagon officials said.

Washington also proposes doubling Afghanistan's professional army and national police force, the officials said.

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to decide on the plan next week as part of a broader Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, the Post said.

The broader strategy's cost projections range from $10 billion to $20 billion over the next six or seven years, The New York Times reported.

By contrast, the Afghan government's annual budget, largely paid for by the United States and other international donors, is about $1.1 billion, the Times said.

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