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U.S House Speaker Calls for More European Aid for Afghanistan

01 February 2007

House of Representatives delegation criticizes new Iraq strategy

Washington – A delegation of U.S. lawmakers is calling for more international help to rebuild Afghanistan and also is criticizing the Bush administration’s new strategy for Iraq.

Afghanistan is “a fight that needs our concerted effort and that of NATO nations,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters at a January 30 press conference, “but we need much more of an effort.”  

Pelosi, a California Democrat, took leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives January 4 following her party’s triumph in the November 2006 elections.  She and a group composed of five other Democratic and one Republican congressmen discussed their recent trip to meet with leaders in Kuwait, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and saluted U.S. diplomatic and military personnel. 

“Sadly, the war in Afghanistan is far from over,” she said, characterizing the struggle to defeat remaining militants and help the Afghan people rebuild their country as “a forgotten war” overshadowed by ongoing operations in Iraq. (See related article.)

NATO member states must honor their pledges to dedicate more troops to the International Security Assistance Force, which took over from the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan in 2006, Pelosi said, and join the United States in redoubling efforts to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s government.

“For years, we have been calling for NATO to take over the Afghan mission,” Congressman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said.  “And while, technically, NATO has done so, NATO has done so in a half-hearted, unsatisfactory, shabby fashion.”

Lantos criticized the limitations placed on NATO forces from Germany, France, Italy and Spain. These limitations, he said, complicated allied commanders’ jobs and unfairly placed the burden of the mission on forces from Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States.  “It is an outrage that this gigantic military alliance cannot provide the troops necessary to win this battle, which is an eminently winnable battle.” 

“I'm disappointed that our NATO partners haven't done a better job in putting more folks into Afghanistan,” Representative Ike Skelton, a Democrat from Missouri who heads the House Armed Services Committee, said.  “The NATO partners have committed themselves to the fight, and they must step up with more forces.” 

Members of the delegation emphasized that the alliance must do more to help Afghanistan secure its border.

“There are many things the Pakistanis are doing well,” Lantos said, “but it is self-evident that they have not yet succeeded in closing the frontier to Taliban terrorist groups … Pakistan will have to do better.” 

Ohio Republican David Hobson agreed, adding that NATO also should help the Afghan government eradicate the booming opium trade that is disrupting Afghanistan’s recovery and flooding Europe’s streets with heroin. 

“The military effort against the Taliban is not over, and more troops are needed, and our NATO and European partners have got to do their fair share,” he said.

Pelosi characterized the current situation in Iraq as catastrophic and strongly criticized the Bush administration’s plan to “surge” thousands more troops into Baghdad and al-Anbar province to help the democratically elected Iraqi government bring sectarian violence under control.

So serious is the ongoing religious and political violence, Representative Silvestre Reyes, a Democrat from Texas who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters, “I am fearful that Iraq is devolving into an all-out civil war, and that the Iraqi government seems unable or unwilling to halt this slide.”

Pelosi and other House Democrats advocate a redeployment of U.S.-led forces that fundamentally would redefine their current mission away from combat operations toward a smaller U.S. force training Iraqi forces to secure their own country. 

The Democrats’ proposed alternative would be complemented by a renewed diplomatic drive to help the Iraqi government promote political reconciliation among its Sunni, Shia and Kurdish communities and to engage with Iraq’s neighbors across the region who wish to help Iraq rebuild.       

The Bush administration disagrees with House Democrats, and says securing Baghdad and al-Anbar are key priorities that can set the stage for political progress.  The fastest way to do so, the administration says, is by active U.S. support of military operations led by coalition-trained Iraqi forces.  (See related article.)

For more information, see Rebuilding Afghanistan and Iraq Update.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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