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US Officials Report to Congress on Afghanistan Reconstruction Progress - 2003-10-16

U.S. officials in charge of reconstruction in Afghanistan say progress is being made there, despite what they acknowledge are worsening security conditions. William Taylor, the U.S. coordinator for Afghanistan, and other officials appeared before House and Senate committees.

Lawmakers are concerned about deteriorating security in Afghanistan, even as Congress is poised to approve another $1.2 billion for relief and reconstruction.

That money is part of the $87 billion the House and Senate are considering to fund ongoing military needs and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Testifying for the first time in his role as U.S. coordinator for Afghanistan, State Department official William Taylor says no one is trying to underplay how serious problems are. But he listed a number of positive accomplishments.

"Women are more free to work and go to school," he said. "Gradually, as they appear in public, women are replacing their burkas with scarves. A variety of media and press outlets have emerged representing a range of political and social viewpoints. Numerous radio stations are up and running. Politically, Afghanistan is now governed by a legitimate leader, selected by Afghans themselves in a peaceful and representative process."

Peter Rodman, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, says the resurgence of the Taleban, along with difficulties the Kabul central government is having asserting authority in the provinces are serious threats, but will not stop progress underway.

"Neither of these challenges is a threat to the political process, to the consolidation that is going on," he said. "Neither of these challenges poses a significant threat to the progress that is being made."

However, with attacks on aid workers and challenges to U.S. forces from Taleban and al-Qaida fighters, some believe things are not going well in Afghanistan.

"The U.S.-led effort to transform Afghanistan is in serious jeopardy," he said. "U.S. and international assistance to Afghanistan has been, and continues to be, insufficient to meet Afghanistan's needs."

U.S. officials say new money should enable the expansion of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in Afghanistan. President Karzai, they add, continues to enforce regulations requiring regional governors to send revenues to the central government.

However, the officials were pressed by others, including Republican on what steps are being taken on other problems, such as booming opium poppy cultivation.

"It is helping to de-stabilize countries further in Central Asia," said Congressman Bereuter. "It is, I suspect, arming some of these drug lords, and perhaps, some of the so-called warlords are also involved, but not all are I think, who are setting up a different kind of force in Afghanistan by permitting these huge profits to come to these new drug lords or reconstituted drug lords."

In legislation called the Afghanistan Freedom Support Act, Congress previously authorized $3.3 billion for Afghanistan through 2006.

The funding bill the House and Senate are preparing to approve would add more for road construction, schools, power generation and preparations for elections scheduled for next year.