During a Gaza reconstruction conference held at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, on March 2, international donors pledged $4.481 billion in aid help the Palestinian economy and rebuild the devastated Gaza strip. The United States was represented at the conference by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who pledged $900 million — $300 million for Gaza reconstruction and another $600 million to support the Palestinian National Authority's (PNA) budget shortfalls and operating expenses.
In her first trip abroad since becoming secretary of state, Hillary Clinton traveled to four Asian countries including China, the world's most populous country, where human-rights concerns were trumped by global economic concerns during Clinton's February 20-22 visit. China is still an openly communist nation and has a dismal human-rights track record. But it also has the world's fastest-growing major economy and is the largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury securities.
Gen. David McKiernan, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, predicted on February 18 that the additional 17,000 U.S. troops scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan will remain there for three to five years. "This is not a temporary force uplift," said McKiernan at a Pentagon news conference. "It will need to be sustained for some period of time, for the next three to four to five years."
President Barack Obama decided February 16 to send an additional 17,000 U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan, as part of his campaign promise to increase U.S. presence in that troubled nation. The decision comes days after a sobering U.S. intelligence assessment authored by retired Admiral Dennis Blair concluded that "corruption has exceeded culturally tolerable levels and is eroding the legitimacy of the government.”
The government of Pakistan announced on February 16 that it had agreed to accept a system of strict Islamic law, or sharia, in the Malakand region of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP), which includes the Swat Valley, as well as a suspension of military operations in the area. The agreement effectively abandons parts of Pakistan to the Taliban insurgents, creating a sanctuary from which they can further threaten supply lines supporting the NATO military operation in neighboring Afghanistan. Taliban insurgents have also used the area as a base from which to launch attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.