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Karzai to Address US Congress - 2004-06-15


Afghanistan's President, Hamid Karzai, addresses a joint meeting of Congress later Tuesday. He is expected to repeat his government's determination to hold elections in September as scheduled, while thanking American lawmakers for the support they have provided since the Taleban were overthrown in 2002.

Mr. Karzai will become the latest foreign leader to be given the opportunity to address both houses of Congress.

Since the U.S. war to oust Saddam Hussein began in March of last year, two others, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and then Spanish President Jose Maria Aznar, have been similarly honored.

During his latest visit to the United States, Mr. Karzai has been saying the people of Afghanistan are eagerly anticipating elections scheduled for September, as their endorsement of the restoration democracy.

In testimony to Congress in recent months, Bush administration officials have emphasized successes. These include progress toward building the Afghan National Army, a police force, and continuing efforts to hunt down former Taleban members and al-Qaida terrorists.

However, they have also faced skeptical lawmakers who believe the enormous focus on Iraq since last year has diverted attention and resources from the task in Afghanistan.

One of those is Democratic Congressman Ike Skelton, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. "Starting now, over the long term, we need to ensure that a terrorist-harboring regime never gains a foothold there again," he says. "I think if we poured half as many people and resources into Afghanistan as we have into Iraq, I think we would be well on the way to recovering that country from some 20 plus years of warfare."

While many in Congress believe the United States should be getting more help from key allies in NATO, they say the Bush administration needs to devote more money to stabilizing Afghanistan.

"It would be nice if some of our allies were doing more on the ground with resources and with troops," says Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer. "But I have been struck by the disparity between what we are doing in Iraq and what we are not doing in Afghanistan."

Administration officials acknowledge security in Afghanistan continues to be a problem, saying this will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.

They also recently told lawmakers that although progress is being made in training a new Afghan army, it may take until the year 2008 to complete a total planned force of about 70,000.

Many members of Congress also want the Bush administration, as well as President Karzai and his government, to act more decisively against opium cultivation and drug trafficking, profits from which U.S. officials and others believe are propping up regional leaders resisting central government control, as well as supporting Taleban and al-Qaida fighters.

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