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Legislative Update



Embassy of Afghanistan Legislative Update for May 2009

At this crucial moment in time, the Embassy of Afghanistan is actively engaging the U.S. Congress to provide the resources and commitment necessary to successfully rebuild Afghanistan. As part of these efforts, we will provide regular updates on legislative activity pertinent to Afghanistan and the region.

SIGAR Releases Report on Afghanistan

On May 1, the Special Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan (SIGAR) released its quarterly report to Congress summarizing its oversight activities of reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The report concludes that there is an urgent need for the U.S. to support anti-corruption efforts in Afghanistan and for U.S. reconstruction efforts to be better integrated, not only among U.S. agencies, but also between these agencies, the Government of Afghanistan and the international community. SIGAR has written to senior U.S. officials as a result, requesting information on what U.S. agencies are currently doing to assist the Afghan government in developing the capacity to fight corruption and asks them to respond to the Afghan government on their requests for assistance in this area. The SIGAR is also completing its first set of audits focusing on evaluating the capacity of the Afghan government to fight corruption and determining what the United States and other donors have done to strengthen that capacity.

Legislation for Afghan Women Introduced

On May 1, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) introduced HR 2214, "The Afghan Women Empowerment Act." The act states that there are shortcomings in the improvement of conditions for women and girls in Afghanistan, noting that approximately 80 percent of Afghan women are illiterate and that many still face oppression resulting from violence and intimidation by the Taliban. The act urges the U.S. to commit resources to advance the rights of women throughout Afghanistan and that grants and assistance to Afghanistan should be conditioned upon the adhering to international standards for women's rights and human rights.

President Karzai Visits Washington for Trilateral Discussions

On May 4-8, President Hamid Karzai and a delegation of Afghan ministers participating in trilateral consultations with U.S. and Pakistani officials conducted several meetings in the U.S. Capitol to discuss current issues involving security, women’s rights, upcoming elections and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. The delegation met with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the House leadership, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Senate leadership, and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. They also attended a lunch meeting hosted by Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Ranking Member Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and participated in a subsequent press conference in the Capitol.

Speaker Holds Press Conference on Afghanistan

On May 6, Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference on Afghanistan. The Speaker noted that President Obama’s new strategy on Afghanistan calls for a regional approach, which is welcomed by all members of Congress. She also expressed her support for fully funding the president’s war funding request and not to place timelines on future funding for Afghanistan because the President has refocused U.S. efforts on Afghanistan, and away from Iraq, and that Congressional support is needed to make the plan work since fighting terrorism in Afghanistan is a national security priority for the U.S.

Sen. Kerry Releases Statement on Afghan Girls

On May 12, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry released a statement in response to news reports of extremists conducting poison attacks on girls’ schools in Afghanistan. Senator Kerry stated that he was “deeply troubled” by reports of poison attacks on schoolgirls in Afghanistan and called for making women and girls’ security a top priority. He also commended their courage for continuing to go to school under such untenable conditions.

House Hearing on Civilian Surge

On May 19, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held a hearing titled, “Afghanistan and Pakistan: Resourcing the Civilian Surge” to examine the recent increase in U.S. civilian efforts in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Witnesses included Mr. Paul Jones, Deputy Assistant Secretary, South and Central Asia Bureau, U.S. Department of State; Mr. David S. Sedney, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Central Asian Affairs; Mr. James A. Bever, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Asia and Near East Bureau, U.S. Agency for International Development; Mr. Michael Michener, Administrator, Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Ambassador John Herbst, Coordinator, Office of Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS), U.S. Department of State. The witnesses outlined the assessments for the civilian surge, the timelines and nature of the staffing initiatives and how they correspond to the needs of the Afghan government and U.S. Embassy in Kabul. The surge is expected to expand the reach and capacity of the Afghan government as well as help the U.S. examine gaps in its strategy for reconstruction efforts.

Bill to Expand Trade Preferences Introduced

On May 21, senators Dianne Feinstein and Kit Bond introduced S.1141, a bill to extend certain trade preferences to certain least-developed countries, and for other purposes. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance. The bill is intended to assist Least Developed Countries (LDCs) , including Afghanistan, sustain vital export industries and promote economic growth and political stability. The bill also encourages trade with least-developed Muslim countries, including Yemen, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh, which is consistent with other United States objectives of encouraging a strong private sector and individual economic empowerment in those countries.

Emergency Supplemental Approved

On May 21, the House and Senate approved the 2009 Emergency War Supplemental spending bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the remainder of the fiscal year. The bill will provide both military and non-military funding for the efforts in Afghanistan and provide foreign aid to the region, although the bill also includes domestic spending measures. The Supplemental provides $3.6 billion for the Afghan Security Forces, contains language prohibiting the use of aerial spraying of herbicides and includes provisions requiring certification on Afghan cooperation with counter-narcotics efforts, withholding funds beyond $200 million until such certification is provided, with a Presidential national security waiver. The bill also provides $999 million for reconstruction and law enforcement programs in Afghanistan, with some increases for agriculture, the National Solidarity Program (NSP), alternative development, and other programs, resulting in an increase from the administration’s $968 million request.

Hearing on New Strategy Held

On May 21, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing titled “A New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.” The witness was Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Mullen stated in his testimony that Afghanistan and Pakistan are two very different countries, but very much linked, to each other and toe the national security of the United States. He noted that reestablishing lost trust and regaining lost opportunities to prevent either nation from being crushed in the grip of extremism is key for the U.S. efforts in the region.

 

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