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Lawmakers Urge Bush Administration to Shift More Resources to Afghanistan - 2004-06-02

Members of Congress have told Bush administration officials more resources should be devoted to U.S. military forces fighting terrorists in Afghanistan. The comments came during a hearing of the House of Representatives International Relations Committee looking at progress in helping Afghanistan make the transition to democracy.

State Department Coordinator for Afghanistan, William Taylor, identified three key challenges: reintegrating former militia fighters into the new Afghan National Army, fighting opium production and moving toward elections.

On elections, he said that voter registration is continuing, but acknowledged that much remains to be done.

?The registration is moving forward, [but] there is a long way to go,? he said. ?I mentioned we are at about 2.8 million and we have seven, eight or nine million that should be registered, that is a long way to go, and the elections are in September. And security for these elections will be an effort, a major effort.?

Mr. Taylor also said that more international help is needed to train police, a job currently being handled by Germany.

As for the Afghan National Army, he calls this an "emerging success" with the central core of the army already being deployed to various parts of the country. However, he said it may take until 2008 to train the total planned force of 70,000 Afghan army troops.

There is increasing concern among lawmakers that the generally positive picture officials have painted concerning Afghanistan may be downplaying problems facing the United States and Karzai government in Kabul.

?We did topple the Taleban regime, but the last two years have not been that encouraging with the rise of narco-terrorists, warlords, inability to extend the security footprint so we can do a better job with assistance,? said Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer.

Members of the House International Relations Committee voiced frustration at what they call the "failure" of NATO countries to shoulder more of the burden.

?Now that NATO has accepted full responsibility for security in Afghanistan, both the troop contribution and the financial contribution of NATO members and other wealthy and developed countries, not members of NATO, is appallingly insufficient. It is embarrassingly insufficient,? said Congressman Tom Lantos, the top Democrat on the committee.

Lawmakers also continue to be concerned about Afghanistan's rising levels of opium cultivation.

Marybeth Long, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Counternarcotics, said that this year's crop will likely show a large increase. The stability of the Afghan government, she added, could be threatened by money going to local warlords, and terrorist groups, some of them with links to al-Qaida.

?We are beginning to see signs of direct involvement by some members of these groups in narcotics trafficking,? she said. ?This is a new development that obviously concerns us. We are also concerned that some of the key traffickers may be able to apply their increased profits to strengthening the military capabilities of the forces that they control, and that this development may undermine our efforts to promote long-term stability in Afghanistan.?

Many lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans want more direct involvement by U.S troops in Afghanistan in counter-narcotics efforts.

?I think that problem has been put on the "back burner" [lower priority],? Republican Dana Rohrabacher said. ?Every time we ask the administration about it, they say well the British are going to handle it. Well the time has come for the U.S. government and the government of Afghanistan to face up to the challenge of heroin production and opium growth in Afghanistan.?

Wednesday's hearing took place against the backdrop of recent media reports saying morale among U.S. troops in Afghanistan is low because of a perception U.S. efforts there and resources committed, are taking a back seat to those in Iraq.