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US to spend $1 billion on embassy expansions in Pakistan, Afghanistan

Diplomatic presence on the scale of Iraq prompts concerns in Pakistan about American meddling

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The US is embarking on a $1 billion crash program to expand its diplomatic presence in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, another sign that the Obama administration is making a costly, long-term commitment to war-torn South Asia, US officials said Wednesday.

The White House has asked Congress for – and seems likely to receive – $736 million to build a new US embassy in Islamabad, along with permanent housing for US government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital.

The scale of the projects rivals the giant US Embassy in Baghdad, which was completed last year after construction delays at a cost of $740 million.

Senior State Department officials said the expanded diplomatic presence is needed to replace overcrowded, dilapidated and unsafe facilities and to support a "surge" of civilian officials into Afghanistan and Pakistan ordered by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Other major projects are planned for Kabul, Afghanistan; and for the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Peshawar. In Peshawar, the US government is negotiating the purchase of a five-star hotel that would house a new US consulate.

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