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House lawmaker holds up Afghan funding over corruption reports

As the debate over the road ahead in Afghanistan heats up in Congress, Democrats are using the power of the purse to seek broad changes in the administration’s policy and express their unhappiness with the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai. In the latest move, a leading House appropriator promised Monday to remove all ...

As the debate over the road ahead in Afghanistan heats up in Congress, Democrats are using the power of the purse to seek broad changes in the administration's policy and express their unhappiness with the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai.

In the latest move, a leading House appropriator promised Monday to remove all the Afghanistan foreign operations and aid money from next year's funding unless she can be assured none of the funds are being wasted due to corruption in the Afghanistan government.

As the debate over the road ahead in Afghanistan heats up in Congress, Democrats are using the power of the purse to seek broad changes in the administration’s policy and express their unhappiness with the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai.

In the latest move, a leading House appropriator promised Monday to remove all the Afghanistan foreign operations and aid money from next year’s funding unless she can be assured none of the funds are being wasted due to corruption in the Afghanistan government.

"I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords, and terrorists," foreign ops subcommittee chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-NY, said. "Furthermore, the government of Afghanistan must demonstrate that corruption is being aggressively investigated and prosecuted."

Her subcommittee will mark up the fiscal 2011 state and foreign ops appropriations bill Wednesday. When they do, billions of dollars the president requested for all sorts of non-military work in Afghanistan will not be in the bill.

A spokesperson for Lowey said she was responding, in part, to two articles published Monday that described some of the abuses of U.S. taxpayer funds going to Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal reported that more than $3 billion of cash has been flown out of the Kabul airport over the last three years, packed in suitcases, and a joint U.S.-Afghan investigation is underway. The Washington Post reported Monday that Karzai is protecting high-level political officials from scrutiny related to the missing funds.

Lowey’s spokesman told The Cable that the largest pots of money to be affected are about $3.3 billion in economic support funds and about $450 million requested for anti-narcotics and law enforcement aid to Afghanistan. Other accounts to be excluded include global health money, anti-terrorism funds, and military training funds for Afghanistan army officers. Humanitarian aid would not be affected.

Lowey also tied the issue to the still struggling U.S. economy, a theme that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-MD, focused on in a separate speech today. Democrats in Congress are preparing to go home to their districts after this week for a July 4 recess that will kick off the congressional campaign season. Accordingly, they are amplifying their rhetoric about deficit spending and expressing their unhappiness with the progress of the war in Afghanistan.

"Too many Americans are suffering in this economy for us to put their hard-earned tax dollars into the hands of criminals overseas," Lowey said.

It’s unclear exactly how Lowey’s bill will be treated after it passes out of her committee. There is not much chance the Congress will pass a full slate of funding bills this year at all. Hill sources said that the current thinking is to pass one bill that will keep the government running until after the elections, called a continuing resolution. In past years, those catch-all spending bills often have had big changes from what the committees put forth, so the money could be added back later on.

It’s also unclear exactly how the Afghan government, much less the Obama administration, could actually assure Lowey that the billions of dollars being sent to Afghanistan are not being siphoned off by corrupt officials for illicit purposes.

The office of Kay Granger, R-TX, the ranking Republican on Lowey’s committee, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

UPDATE: Granger issued this statement late Monday afternoon:

"I share similar concerns with Chairwoman Nita Lowey about today’s press reports alleging the shipment of billions of dollars in donor funds out of Afghanistan. However, I cannot support cancelling all FY2011 Afghanistan funding for the State Department and USAID until all the facts are clear and we know the impact this could have on our troops on the ground. When General Petraeus helped craft the current Afghan strategy last year it was not exclusively a military strategy – the State Department and USAID were intended to be key partners in the overall effort."

 

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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