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US Lawmakers Meet President to Discuss Afghanistan


A bipartisan group of congressional leaders has met with President Bush, Wednesday, to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the need for ongoing U.S. and international economic and military support for the government of President Hamid Karzai. VOA's Dan Robinson reports on this, and updates developments regarding congressional debate over funding for U.S. military operations in Iraq.

The meeting came as lawmakers take steps, as early as next week, to move the president's request for $93 billion in emergency spending for Afghanistan and Iraq for the 2007 fiscal year toward full consideration by the House and Senate.

In recent hearings on Capitol Hill, military officials have testified about military challenges in Afghanistan, including an expected Taleban spring offensive, and what the U.S. and NATO forces are doing to prepare.

Congress has also heard about difficulties hampering reconstruction efforts and slowing progress toward stability.

Emerging after meeting with the president, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said he and others discussed the need for more progress. "We are not going to win Afghanistan unless we have a strong component of our being good at what we do well, building hospitals, and schools and roads. [And] the administration, all the officials there [in the meeting] indicated that they recognize this," he said.

The meeting also came in the wake of visits by Vice President Dick Cheney to Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan to discuss ongoing military efforts.

Pakistan is coming under new criticism in US Congress, with many asking harder questions about the effectiveness of Pakistani government measures against Taleban and al-Qaeda elements along the border with Afghanistan and in tribal areas inside Pakistan.

Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell predicts lawmakers from both parties are likely to find wide areas of agreement when they consider the president's latest funding request. "I think there is a broad bipartisan agreement that we need to win in Afghanistan. A win obviously means supporting President Karzai, the Afghan National Army, and doing everything we can to destroy both Taleban and al-Qaida elements there in the country," he said.

Discussions on Afghanistan come as lawmakers continue to maneuver for position on the question of funding for military operations in Iraq.

After the House approved a non-binding measure opposing the president's 21,000 troop surge, Senate Democrats have delayed a debate on Iraq.

House Democrats continue to consider the approach they will take in the coming debate on the funding request

After meeting with the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had this response when asked again about initial plans by Democrat John Murtha to tie troop deployments for Iraq to equipment and training readiness. "They were never conditions, they were just a call to follow the policy that exists now. What Mr. Murtha put forth were three principles that are the law now, and he was focusing on them, but they were never to be considered conditions for funding the effort that is on the ground there now, and that was on the ground [in Iraq] on January 10th and prior to that," she said.

January 10 was the day President announced his plan to send an additional 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq as part of efforts to secure Baghdad and al-Anbar province.

Democratic leaders face criticism from conservatives within their own ranks of Congressman Murtha's proposals, as well as pressure from the far left of the party to support his approach.

Republicans meanwhile continue to condemn what they call Democratic efforts to slow bleed the ability of the president to manage the war in Iraq, asserting Democratic steps will harm troops in the field.

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