Afghan President`s comments rile US lawmakers

The United States has about 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and plans to bring most forces home by 2015.

Washington: The Obama administration should rethink its commitment of dollars and American lives to the fight in Afghanistan, according to lawmakers furious with Afghan President Hamid Karzai`s recent statement that his country would back Pakistan if it went to war with the United States.

That anger over Karzai`s remarks is likely to surface when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies on Thursday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, her first congressional appearance since her trip last week to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Lawmakers also are expected to press Hillary on the administration`s recent decision to temporarily pull its ambassador out of Syria, the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq by year`s end and the Palestinians` push for statehood at the United Nations over objections from the US and Israel.

In an interview that aired this past weekend, Karzai told a private Pakistani television station: "If fighting starts between Pakistan and the US, we are beside Pakistan. If Pakistan is attacked and the people of Pakistan need Afghanistan`s help, Afghanistan will be there with you."

He said his government would not allow any nation, including the United States, to dictate its policies.

Those comments drew a sharp rebuke from members of Congress, including some who have been strong supporters of the decade-plus war in Afghanistan.

"Without the assistance of the United States, USD 468 billion from the United States Treasury and the supreme sacrifice of 1,820 American soldiers who have died during Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan would still be ruled by a gang of Taliban thugs with few individual liberties and no popularly elected leaders," Representative Norm Dicks of Washington state, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations defence subcommittee, said in a statement.

Dicks said Karzai`s comments underscore the need for the United States to reconsider its mission and schedule for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan.

The United States has about 98,000 troops in Afghanistan and plans to bring most forces home by 2015. It intends to withdraw the 33,000 additional troops that President Barack Obama sent to Afghanistan in 2009 by the end of the fighting season in 2012, 10,000 of them by the end of this year. About 3,000 of those have already left.

"Now more than ever, President Karzai`s insult to America tells me that it`s time for our country to stop pouring our limited taxpayer dollars and losing precious American lives in a country where we aren`t even welcome — and even worse, where they have the gall to threaten to side against us," Senator Joe Manchin, D- West Virginia, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said this week.

Representative Connie Mack, R- Florida, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Wednesday that the US "needs to have a foreign policy — as President (George W) Bush said — you`re either with us or against us."

Lawmakers have been critical of Pakistan, demanding it crack down on the Taliban-linked Haqqani network, considered a major threat to American forces. Admiral Mike Mullen, the former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, told Congress last month that the violent Haqqani network "acts as a veritable arm" of Pakistan`s intelligence agency.

While in Pakistan, Hillary bluntly said if the government in Islamabad is unwilling or unable to take the fight to al Qaeda and the Haqqani network operating from its border with Afghanistan, the US "would show" it how to eliminate its safe havens.

Hillary`s appearance comes as her department`s budget is under siege in Congress.

Legislation in the House would provide USD 39.6 billion for the State Department and foreign aid, USD 11.2 billion less than what Obama and Hillary requested for the fiscal year that began on October 01. Separately, it would provide USD 7.6 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations budget for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Hillary has criticised the cuts, especially since foreign aid amounts to just 1 percent of federal spending.

Hillary will be facing a committee that has been the most antagonistic toward Obama administration foreign policy in the current Congress. The panel, led by Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, has voted to slash US contributions to the United Nations, conditionally block assistance to nations overseas and cut funds for global climate change initiatives and programs to help poor women and children in developing countries.

The efforts have largely been a symbolic slap at the State Department as the committee`s bills stand no chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate and would face a certain veto by Obama. Even the GOP-led House hasn`t taken up many of the measures.

Bureau Report

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