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SLUG: 2-315485 Congress / Afghanistan (L-O)









INTRO: U-S officials say efforts to strengthen the government in Afghanistan and build a national army are going well, despite continuing security problems. Their comments came in a congressional hearing looking at progress since the ouster of the Taleban regime in 2001. V-O-A's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill:

TEXT: William Taylor, State Department coordinator for Afghanistan, cites progress toward adoption of a constitution, and elections scheduled for September, as proof the country is on track to becoming a "successful Islamic democracy."

He also praised contributions from other countries, reflected in the recent donors conference in Berlin:

/// TAYLOR ACT ///

Sixty delegations, 60 countries came, and pledged four-point-five billion dollars just for this year, eight-point-two billion dollars for the next three years in a remarkable show of support for Afghanistan.

/// END ACT ///

Assistant Secretary of Defense, Peter Rodman, says "accelerating" formation of an Afghan national army is also going well, in combination with a political strategy:

/// RODMAN ACT ///

President (Hamid) Karzai has over the past 12 months been moving out methodically, systematically, and I think successfully to assert government control.

/// END ACT ///

/// OPT /// The Afghan army now has 83-hundred soldiers, with another 25-hundred in training. The U-S goal is to train 10 to 12-thousand per year toward an eventual force of 70-thousand by 2011. /// END OPT ///

However, continuing security problems in Afghanistan, and concerns about resistance to the central government by regional "warlords" were an undercurrent in Thursday's hearing.

William Taylor describes the message being sent by President Karzai and U-S officials to various regional chiefs :

/// TAYLOR ACT ///

The time now is to support the re-development, the re-construction of this country and if you, officials, commanders, local strong-men, if you are part of that solution, if you are part of this reconstruction, then you will have no trouble with us. If, however, you don't, if you don't support President Karzai, if you're not willing to support the constitution as it was passed, by the Loya Jirga, if you're not willing to support the work to reconstruct the country in a comprehensive way, in a democratic way, then you are going to have difficulties with us.

/// END ACT ///

Officials offered reassurances U-S forces have not slackened their efforts to locate (al-Qaida organization leader) Osama bin-Laden, still thought to be hiding somewhere along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

They also had to assure lawmakers U-S military operations in Afghanistan are not being strained by war in Iraq.

/// OPT /// One person who believes that is Congressman Ike Skelton, a Democrat and strong supporter of the military:


We are short-changing our effort to establish a viable federal government to re-build that country.

/// END ACT -- END OPT ///

In this and a separate House hearing, lawmakers raised questions about how aggressive U-S military efforts are in fighting opium cultivation in Afghanistan.

Defense official Rodman had this response when asked why U-S troops have not so far taken up this role:

/// RODMAN ACT ///

We have not up to now given our military the mission of proactively chasing down the drug trade. Their primary mission has been counter-terrorism.

/// END ACT ///

In a separate hearing, Congressman Jerry Lewis made this comment to Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz:

/// LEWIS ACT ///

We have the capacity to eliminate those poppy fields. There is no excuse for our not doing that.

/// END ACT ///

Congressman Lewis says he will be pressing the State Department and Pentagon for results in the anti-drug effort in Afghanistan. (signed)


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