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US House of Representatives Approves Five-Year Assistance Plan for Afghanistan

The House of Representatives has approved legislation providing just under $6 billion in economic and military assistance for Afghanistan over the next five years. The vote was 406 to 10. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill.

The measure contains funds for economic reconstruction and military assistance to the government of President Hamid Karzai, authorizing $5.8 billion over five years beginning in 2008.

That breaks down to about $1.7 billion a year for humanitarian and economic aid, and $320 million to support Afghanistan's military, which with U.S. and international help is battling Taleban fighters.

Lawmakers focused on bolstering Afghan government efforts for political and social reforms, along with anti-corruption efforts and measure to improve the condition and education of women who were oppressed under Taleban rule.

Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:

"These women have overcome unimaginable obstacles and they deserve our ongoing support as they work to build a new democracy," said Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. "We must continue to work to ensure that they are not threatened, nor intimidated or physically harmed by those who seek to bring Afghanistan back to the oppressive and brutal times experienced under the Taleban regime."

The bill provides $5 million for the Afghan Ministry of Women's Affairs, and $30 million for Afghan-led nongovernment organizations for projects such as schools and clinics supporting Afghan women and girls.

Amendments to the legislation emphasize completion of secondary education for Afghan girls, and the protection of Afghan women legislators.

The measure also provides $10 million for Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission.

Congressman Tom Lantos chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee:

"Every schoolhouse door in Afghanistan is a threshold to stopping terrorism," said Tom Lantos. "Every new power line in Afghanistan is a front line in the war on terror. Every farm in Afghanistan used for legitimate crops instead of opium poppies is a fertile ground for peace."

Lawmakers also approved language requiring assessments of the quality of governance in Afghan provinces, focusing on the rule of law, progress of the judicial system, and the impact on the counter-insurgency effort of any human rights abuses by Afghan government forces.

Seventy five million dollars is authorized each year for purchases of diesel fuel and other resources as part of short-term efforts to provide electricity in major Afghan cities.

Lawmakers also used debate on the measure to underscore concern about indications that Iranian arms are finding their way into the hands of Taleban forces.

The bill contains language noting that U.S. forces recently intercepted a shipment of Iranian-made weapons intended for the Taleban,

Republican Congressman Trent Franks asserts that if such shipments are sanctioned by Iran's government, there are serious implications.

"If this is true, the implications must be realized by this Congress because it means that Shiite Iran is disregarding sectarian differences with Sunni Taleban in order to unite with them in an effort to undermine U.S. efforts for peace in a Democratic Afghanistan," said Trent Franks.

The House measure also supports continuation of the Rewards for Justice program in which members of the Afghan or Pakistani governments provide information leading to the capture of exceptional and high-profile terrorists committing acts in Afghanistan.

It also authorizes payments to countries assisting the United States in military, peacekeeping or policing operations in Afghanistan, including up to $10 million each year for training of foreign military personnel to be deployed to Afghanistan.

The funding, called the Afghanistan Freedom and Security Support Act, is in addition to $685 million Congress approved for the 2007 fiscal year as part of the recent emergency supplemental appropriations bill for Iraq and Afghanistan, that turned into a battle of wills between Congress and President Bush.