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US Officials Questioned About Afghanistan Policy


U.S. officials have answered more tough questions from lawmakers in Congress about efforts by the United States and allies to support and strengthen the government in Afghanistan. A hearing of the House International Relations Committee took place in the wake of the recent parliamentary and provincial elections in Afghanistan, and controversial remarks by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

As election vote counting continues, U.S. lawmakers are pleased to see democracy continuing to take hold in Afghanistan.

At the same time, they are uneasy about continuing attacks by Taleban and al-Qaida-linked terrorists, along with doubts about progress in strengthening government control over the provinces, and about anti-narcotics efforts.

Questions also focused on recent remarks by President Karzai, who this week questioned the need for what he called major military operations by foreign troops, including air strikes.

Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman was asked about that, and President Karzai's assertion that military efforts should focus on places where terrorists are trained.

That was seen as a reference to support that Taleban and others are thought to be receiving in Pakistan or close to its border.

Mr. Rodman had this exchange with Congressman Brad Sherman.

SHERMAN: "Are millions of dollars in cash and weapons going from the treasury of the Pakistani government, through its intelligence service, to the Taleban?"

RODMAN: "I doubt that very much, I don't think that is what the issue is, and..."

SHERMAN: "Because that is what the President of Afghanistan was saying. If you're here on behalf of the State Department, saying that he got his facts wrong, that is something we ought to understand."

Mr. Rodman says Pakistani anti-insurgent campaigns have been increasingly more effective, adding the United States gives more credit to Pakistan than does the Karzai government.

On Thursday, U.S. Major General Jason Kamiya, operational commander of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, said air strikes had been decisive against insurgents adding they will be needed well into next year.

However, Mr. Rodman said the United States does not consider air strikes to be, in his words, the main tactic right now.

Meanwhile, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Nancy Powell says the United States and allies are on target in training Afghan regular and border police with a goal of 50,000 by year's end. However, she says there are gaps.

"We are continuing to work with [the Pentagon] and other donors to provide the vehicles, the weapons that the police need," she said. "[The Pentagon] has contributed, Hungary has just made a contribution of weapons. So, there are still enormous gaps in their equipment, particularly in their vehicles, but they [these efforts] are being started."

Thursday's hearing reflected ongoing skepticism in Congress about NATO's role in Afghanistan.

Republican Congressman Ed Royce is concerned about the impact that might come from NATO, assuming more responsibility for security in the country.

"I am hopeful to see more NATO involvement in Afghanistan, but given the inadequacies and foot-dragging that we have observed, I have to ask this question: is now the time to give NATO complete command?" he asked.

Assistant Secretary Rodman says the United States hopes for agreement among NATO countries in coming weeks on a new command structure, adding the ultimate goal is for the United States not to have to shoulder the same military burden.

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