U.S. lawmakers are considering President Bush's $87 billion emergency funding request for Iraq and Afghanistan. On Thursday, Bush administration officials testified before a Senate panel about the part of the package dealing with Afghanistan.
Most of the $87 billion is to be used in Iraq, but $11 billion is for Afghanistan. The money is be used to support U.S. troops there and improve security. It would be used to also help train more Afghan police officers and members of the Afghan army, and rebuild more roads, schools and health facilities.
General Peter Pace, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the request is urgent. He said Taleban militants from Afghanistan's former regime and members of the al-Qaida terrorist network, blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, are beginning to reorganize.
"There is a threat. We believe some of the Taleban are beginning to 'puddle up' again, and to reorganize, and those are the elements we are attacking as I sit here with coalition forces to include the Afghan national army," he said.
Some Democrats seized on those comments to argue that the administration has dangerously under-funded the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and crippled efforts to find al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden, because it is too focused on Iraq.
Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia underscored the point at the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing. "Even in this request, the bulk of resources are placed on Iraq, even as reports grow that the Taleban is gathering strength and that communities outside Kabul are controlled by warlords," he said. "Is this a strategy that will capture Osama bin Laden? I feel this will more likely result in a renewed safe haven for terrorists instead of an end to their operations in Afghanistan."
But Undersecretary of Defense, Dov Zakheim, said the administration has not forgotten Afghanistan. "We have made tremendous progress there. I think I am correct in saying Afghanistan has the most stable government since President Karzai took over that they have had in the previous 25 years," he said.
Lawmakers of both parties wanted to know how long U.S. troops would be in Afghanistan. Mr. Zakheim said they would remain through scheduled elections next June and until a new government is in place. At that point, he said, the new Afghan government would decide whether it wanted a U.S. military presence for the country's security.
The supplemental request for Iraq and Afghanistan goes to the Senate floor next week.