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Afghan Parliamentarians Discuss Security and Reconstruction in Washington

On June 18 a delegation of Afghan Parliamentarians arrived in the United States on the invitation of the Congress’ House Democracy Assistance Commission and with the assistance of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA). The members of the Afghan delegation from the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament (the Wolesi Jerga) included Mr. Noorulhaq Olomi, Chair of the Defense Committee; Mr. Zalmai Mujadidi, Chair of the National and Domestic Security Committee; and three members of the National and Domestic Security Committee, Mr. Jamil Karzai, Mr. Mohammad Almas and Mr. Helaluddin Helal. The delegation had meetings with high ranking member of Congress, key Congressional Committee staff, meetings at the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of State and other meetings with thinks tanks and at the National Defense University.

In their meetings with U.S. officials, the Parliamentarians reiterated their appreciation for the strong and continued commitment of the U.S. to the mission in Afghanistan. The delegation expressed their gratitude for the financial support both from the U.S. Administration and from the U.S. Congress. The delegation and their counterparts discussed the Administration’s announced assistance aid package of over $11 billion for the 2007 and 2008 with a majority of funding going to the security sector; and the recently House passed reauthorization package for an additional $6.5 billion for the two year period beginning in 2008.

In meetings focused on enhancing security in Afghanistan, members of the delegation recommended increasing support for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. The Afghan Army lacks basic weapons, needs to have the ability to be more mobile and is in need of better transportation equipment including helicopters and light armored vehicles; while the training, recruitment and salaries of the Afghan National Police are of substandard quality.

The Afghan delegation requested a more direct line of communication between the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Administration and the Afghan Parliament on matters of security and financial assistance. The Afghan Parliamentarians expressed interest in establishing a mechanism that would exchange timely and detailed information from the U.S. on funding for the security sector in Afghanistan with the goal of integrating such information into the national planning and strategy process of the Afghan government.

The delegation also discussed the nature of the current Taliban insurgency and the role of the extremist groups in the region. They recommended that the global war on terror should focus on eliminating regional terrorist sanctuaries and systems of support for extremism. They stressed the need for continued close coordination of efforts in the war on terror between nations in the region and reiterated their support for a strong partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan.

The delegation was welcomed on the House Floor by the Honorable David Dreier, Chairman of the House Democracy Assistance Commission.  Specific meetings with Congressional leaders were with the Honorable Ike Skelton, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; the Honorable David Price Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security; the Honorable Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Col. Paul Kennedy, U.S. Marine Corps Congressional Liaison Office. The delegation also me with other key members of Congress as well as observing an on-going House Armed Services Committee hearing and attending sessions on the Congressional Committee system by the Congressional Research Service. In addition, the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA) held a day long program to cover U.S. policy and decision making in regards to national security and defense oversight.

As part of their trip to Washington, the delegation met Mr. Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, U.S. Department of State and Mr. Richard Lawless, Under Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense; and Mr. Robert Wilkie, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs.

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