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US Lawmakers Paint Grim Picture of Iraq, Afghanistan

US House lawmakers who have just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan have delivered sobering assessments of the situations there. VOA's Dan Robinson reports on remarks by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others who met with U.S. troops and commanders, and government leaders.

Calling the situation in Iraq catastrophic Congresswoman Pelosi says she is even more convinced that the U.S. needs to begin a phased withdrawal, which Democrats describe as a redeployment, of its forces from Iraq.

On hopes for political steps by Iraq's government, or pressure by the U.S. toward that end that might provide more optimism, she followed with this. "Many of us went there opposed to the escalation. All of us went there hopeful that we would see something that would say that the political and diplomatic initiatives that are necessary to help our military would be present. There was no evidence of any political and diplomatic initiative worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform," she said.

Silvestre Reyes, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, agrees the military situation in Iraq is serious. "I am fearful that Iraq is devolving into an all-out civil war, and that the Iraqi government seems unable or unwilling to halt this slide," he said.

Lawmakers again expressed concern that Iraq has siphoned troops and funds from Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO troops have been fighting the Taleban, al-Qaida and other insurgents.

Ike Skelton, who heads the House Armed Services Committee, says he sees a flicker of light that U.S. and international efforts in Afghanistan can succeed, but criticizes what he calls an insufficient contribution from NATO forces on the ground. "More must be done, and I am disappointed that our NATO partners haven't done a better job in putting more folks into Afghanistan and secondly, a good number of the NATO troops are limited in their mission," he said.

House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Lantos calls NATO efforts half-hearted and shabby and aims criticism at Pakistan which he says is not doing enough to prevent cross-border infiltration fueling the Afghan insurgency. "There are many things the Pakistanis are doing well but it is self-evident that they have not yet succeeded in closing the frontier [with Afghanistan] to Taleban terrorist groups," he said.

The congressional delegation also included one Republican, Congressman David Hobson, who urged aggressive action to deal with the cross-border issue and Afghanistan's opium production.

Meanwhile, former U.S. officials testifying earlier before the House Armed Services Committee had some tough advice for the Bush administration on Afghanistan.

Ambassador James Dobbins urged more forceful U.S. efforts with Pakistan regarding cross-border support for the Taleban. "An increase in U.S. military manpower and money for Afghanistan such as the administration currently proposes, may well contain the renewed insurgency and prevent the Karzai government from being overthrown. But U.S. and NATO troops are likely to be required there indefinitely as long as the Taleban and other insurgent groups are able to recruit, train, raise funds and organize their operations in Pakistan," he said.

Karl Inderfurth, a former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia, says Congress must continue to support the Karzai government, but adds the U.S. must make a mid-course correction if efforts there are to succeed:

"Five years after [the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks] half measures by the United States and the international community are failing to provide security, rebuild the country, or combat the exploding drug trade. Afghanistan is still very much a nation at risk," he said.

Referring to lawmaker's recent meeting with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, Inderfurth says Afghanistan's future will depend on the ability of Republicans and Democrats to maintain bipartisan support for the government in Kabul.