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Embassy of Afghanistan Legislative Update for March 2007

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 meetings with key U.S. Representatives and Senators and legislation pertinent to Afghanistan and the region.

As Democrats and Republicans continue to debate U.S. involvement in the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan has received bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress. Throughout March, Congressional members of the 110th Congress continued to examine the security situation in Afghanistan in an effort to draft sound foreign policy. 

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 1st, Senators examined counter-narcotics trends, progress in reconstruction, capacity-building issues, and regional security challenges. Witnesses included: the Honorable Eric. S. Edelman, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Lieutenant General Douglas E. Lute, Director of Operations – Joint Staff, General James Jones, Jr., Former US European Command and Supreme Allied Commander, and Dr. Barnett Rubin, Director of Studies and Senior Fellow – Center on International Cooperation, New York University. 

On March 8th, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing titled, “Afghanistan: Time for a New Strategy?” with witness Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs. Participants in the hearing emphasized that success in Afghanistan is possible, but more needs to be done to address security challenges and build much-needed infrastructure. 

Last month, senior Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asking for the appointment of "a high-level coordinator of overall Afghan narco-terrorism policy." As a result, the White House recently appointed Thomas Schweich, who currently serves as the principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement at the State Department, to be coordinator for counter-narcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan. However, House Republicans have been critical of the appointment, as they had expected a cross-agency coordinator. 

During a debate on the House floor, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NY) asserted that the House should refocus its efforts in the war against terrorism from Iraq to Afghanistan, and urged that more resources be spent on reconstruction in Afghanistan. Rep. Pallone highlighted the plight of farmers who lack alternative livelihoods and have turned to poppy production as a result. 

The Senate also confirmed the William B. Wood this month as the U.S. Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. Ambassador Said T. Jawad sent a congratulatory letter to Ambassador Woods and will meet with him before his departure to Kabul.

International Aid

The 2007 Emergency Supplemental was passed by both houses of Congress. Earlier this month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stated that more reconstruction money was needed for Afghanistan after she met with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “We have long said that that should be the focus of the war on terror,” said the Speaker. Both the House and Senate versions provide at least $200 million more for the war in Afghanistan than what the President requested. President Bush has already warned that he will veto the bill because it includes language that sets a goal for withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The House and Senate versions will be going to Conference early next month. Senate Democrats in the Budget Committee rejected this month proposals to cut war funding for Afghanistan and Iraq by $80 billion. 

Embassy Meetings

The Embassy of Afghanistan continues to engage members of the 110th Congress in order to promote good working relations between Embassy and Congressional staffs. This month Ambassador Jawad met with Senator John Warner (R-VA), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), Senator Kit Bond (R-MI), Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA), Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), and Congressman Steven Rothman (D-NJ). Embassy staff also met with staff members from the offices of Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA), and Congressman Jim Cooper (D-TX). 

Ambassador Jawad also met with members of the German Bundestag (German Parliament) to discuss reconstruction and security in Afghanistan. The parliamentarians were in Washington, D.C. as part of the Transatlantic Dialogue on Afghanistan. They also met with top Afghan experts, their counterparts in the U.S. Congress, and spoke at the United States Institute of Peace. Ambassador Jawad and the four parliamentarians exchanged ideas on government capacity building, counter-narcotics, and the successful role Germany has played in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, particularly with the German-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT). 

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