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Public Statements

Afghanistan Freedom and Security Support Act of 2007

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


AFGHANISTAN FREEDOM AND SECURITY SUPPORT ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - June 06, 2007)

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. I thank the chairman of our committee, Chairman Lantos, for his leadership for so long on this issue.

Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I would like to voice my strong support for the chairman's bill, H.R. 2446, the Afghanistan Freedom and Security Support Act, and that's the key part of what we're talking about today, security support. This legislation is the product of the bipartisan cooperation that our committee has shown on an issue of critical importance to the United States and our allies in the war against Islamic militant extremists.

Five years ago, our Nation experienced a terrible tragedy, and it led our Nation to destroy the al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan that the brutal Taliban regime had created there. Our focus was to provide a safe, stable and secure Afghanistan that would deny global jihadists a base of operations to conduct their campaign of terror and destruction against our Nation and our critical security interests around the world.

Since then, Afghanistan has taken notable steps to emerge from decades of war, of violence, of oppression, toward a prosperous, secure, free, democratic nation. Today, over 5 million Afghan children are in school, including 2 million girls. This was prohibited under the Taliban rule. Hundreds of clinics and new schools are now open to serve the population as a result of international efforts. Media, cultural, business and political leaders are free to meet to discuss, to demonstrate and to guide policies that are transforming their nation across all sectors.

The Afghan economy is growing at an incredible rate, and institutional assistance for Afghan economic reconstruction has been forthcoming. Most importantly, the Afghanistan people, through their active direct participation in the political process, have demonstrated their desire to accelerate and ensure the movement of Afghanistan toward modern society.

However, challenges to these and other efforts remain, as Mr. Lantos has pointed out. A dramatic increase in illicit opium cultivation is financing and strengthening the Taliban and anticoalition activity. It's increasing crime and corruption, and it is eroding the authority of the central government institutions.

Afghanistan's ballooning drug trade has succeeded in expanding the ranks of the Taliban. It is no coincidence that opium and heroin production dramatically increased at the same time that the Taliban-staged massive counteroffensive, particularly in the south of the country.

The issue of Taliban and al Qaeda resurgence cannot be considered in a vacuum. In response, this critical legislation seeks to address the current situation in an integrated fashion, to include the confluence of the short-term goals to reduce opium activity and related corruption, while addressing longer-term developmental goals which have an impact on our counter terrorism and our counternarcotics policies and objectives.

In particular, within this critical legislation, we have worked to establish the means for developing a long overdue and coherent interdepartmental and counternarcotics strategy that addresses the deadly and the neglected illicit drug trade and its links to radical Islamic terrorism that imperil the future of Afghanistan.

In February of this year, I, along with some of my other colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee, wrote to the administration on the need for an across-the-board policy change on the illicit drug threat fueling the resurgence of the Taliban, the attacks on our coalition troops, and official corruption in Afghanistan.

The bill before us incorporates many of the recommendations that we proposed in this letter, and I thank Chairman Lantos for working so closely with us. I believe that his bill will prompt much-needed changes by mandating the appointment of a high level, interdepartmental Afghan coordinator with emphasis on a development of a coherent government-wide counter drug policy. This includes bringing the U.S. military into the fight, providing meaningful support for the drug enforcement administration with an emphasis on interdiction and on the extradition of major drug kingpins.

This legislation also contains limitations on assistance to senior Afghan local and provincial government officials who, based on evidence, are found to be supporting Islamic terrorist activities or narco-traffickers or drug producers or are involved in other criminal activities. This important oversight provision will be instrumental in assuring that vital U.S. reconstruction assistance is properly allocated and utilized.

I am also pleased that we were able to come to an agreement with Chairman Lantos on the extension of draw-down authority for military equipment, which promotes greater ability to operate with the international security assistance force and other allies in the country of Afghanistan.

In addition, the bill ensures that there will be prevetting of the recruits of the Afghan police to help adequately assess the candidates' aptitude, professionals skills, integrity and other qualifications for law enforcement work before they enter the service. Our efforts in Afghanistan, in particular, and our campaign against militant Islamic extremists in general must be pursued in a comprehensive manner.

As illustrated by this critical legislation, it requires an effective and unified reconstruction strategy with a unified counternarcotics strategy, counter terrorism strategy, and an Afghan government committed to fighting and eliminating corruption.

Only with this comprehensive approach will we accelerate economic development and reconstruction, improve the quality of life for Afghanistan and address the underlying conditions that fuel extremist acts and decisively defeat the jihadist elements that want to once again control Afghanistan.

My daughter-in-law, Lindsay, after serving her military tour in Iraq as a marine pilot, is now serving in Afghanistan. We hope that she will be back home with us by Thanksgiving. But we thank every brave man and woman who is wearing our Nation's uniform in Afghanistan, and we thank them for freeing an entire population, and we hope that their contributions will always be celebrated in this House.

This bill before us brings us closer to making sure that Afghanistan remains a free country and be without the extremist Islamic elements that seek to destroy it.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I encourage all of my colleagues to support this far-reaching bill.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim time in opposition, although I am not opposed to the amendment.

The CHAIRMAN. Without objection, the gentlewoman is recognized for 5 minutes.

There was no objection.

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

I rise in support of and have no objection to this manager's amendment, which contains minor technical and conforming changes. I support this amendment's consideration by unanimous consent.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment.

The CHAIRMAN. The gentlewoman is recognized for 5 minutes.

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, the amendment has a noble purpose, to enhance congressional oversight on the status of local governance in Afghanistan, including adherence to the rule of law, protection of human rights and operation of an effective justice system. Unfortunately, the amendment lacks specific criteria by which to measure these issues. It requires the administration to report, for example, on how the lack of implementation of the rule of law affects the operations of the Afghan National Army, the police and security forces. However, there are numerous factors that comprise the rule of law. How would this provision measure implementation of the rule of law?

Without a clear measure, how could any administration then state, with any degree of certainty, what effects the absence of such implementation had on the operations of Afghan security forces? It goes on to ask for an assessment on the ability of the Afghan judicial system to support the civil military side of military and police operations.

Again, a noble purpose, but there are no clear definitions, no guidelines to determine the information sought. Further, how could we establish a clear measure so that the administration can state how the actions of the Afghan security forces led to human rights abuses, and in turn, how much those abuses undermine counter insurgency efforts? That is an extraordinary, complicated, causal chain, and some direction and clarification within the amendment itself, Mr. Chairman, would have been most useful.

We sought modifications to this amendment in an effort to arrive at an agreement on the text because I do support what my colleague from New York is trying to get at. We want to support the overarching goals of this bill, and his amendment is an attempt to do that.

I will continue to work closely with the gentleman from New York regarding his particular amendment to preserve its intent, to make sure that it can be effective in its implementation, but as currently drafted, I will have to oppose the amendment. I urge my colleagues to do the same.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim time in opposition, although I am not opposed to the amendment.

The CHAIRMAN. Without objection, the gentlewoman is recognized for 5 minutes.

There was no objection.

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Chairman, this amendment both authorizes and requires oversight by the Inspectors General from the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, and it does this in two main ways.

First, it requires the permanent deployment in Afghanistan of at least four IG staffers, two each from State and USAID, to audit, to investigate and to oversee economic and developmental assistance provided in Title I of the Act.

Secondly, it also earmarks a total of $4.5 million per year for these IG activities.

We all share the goal of ensuring that our investment in Afghanistan's economic and democratic development is not squandered. Fiscal accountability is always in order, Mr. Chairman. As a proportion of the total amounts in the Act, the amount earmarked by this amendment is roughly in the ballpark of the amount that USAID usually spends on IG activities as compared to its total budget. Furthermore, the activities contemplated by this amendment are in keeping with the current responsibilities of the State and USAID Inspectors General.

Solid plans that help maximize the impact of the strategy embodied in the underlying bill are to be welcomed. In this spirit, I am pleased to support this well-thought-out amendment by the gentleman from California; and I also urge my colleagues to support it as well.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Reclaiming my time, Mr. Chairman, I would also like to thank Chairman Lantos as well as his staff for having such a wonderful, cooperative spirit and for the working relationship between staff and Members.

I thank the gentleman from California for offering this amendment, because it gets at the heart of what we want to do: fiscal accountability; making sure that our tax dollars are being used in the wisest way, free of corruption, and making sure that we have folks on the ground to look at those dollars. We have our precious treasure, our men and women in uniform, shedding blood for freedom. Let's make sure that American taxpayer dollars are being used in the correct way as well.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentleman for yielding.

I rise in strong support of the Franks amendment. Since last April, two arms shipment from Iran, including mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, C-4 explosives and small arms have reportedly been intercepted by U.S. and coalition troops.

Further, a NATO spokesman recently stated that an explosively formed projectile, EFP, which resembled the EFPs bearing Iranian manufacturing markings that have been found in Iraq, have been recently discovered in Kabul. This directly affects the safety and security of our men and women serving in Afghanistan. As I pointed out previously, my daughter-in-law is one of those wearing our Nation's uniform serving in Afghanistan. We want to make sure that we protect everyone in that country.

These disturbing developments may indicate that the Iranian regime has decided to also undermine the government of Afghanistan and U.S. efforts to deny Islamic militants a safe haven in Afghanistan.

While fighting in Afghanistan has thus far been concentrated near the Pakistani border, increased Iranian interference in Afghanistan may indicate an attempt to provoke the U.S. and our coalition partners into opening a second front. Iran's apparently increasing involvement in this central front of the global war against radical jihadists reflects the goal of the regime of pursuing regional dominance, spreading radical Islam, and counteracting western influence in the region. Such a goal is intolerable. As in Iraq, failure in Afghanistan is not an option.

Mr. Chairman, the Afghanistan Freedom and Security Support Act works to bolster our efforts, and I support the Franks amendment.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim the time in opposition, although I am not opposed to the amendment.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. Without objection, the gentlewoman from Florida is recognized for 5 minutes.

There was no objection.

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise today in support of the amendment offered by the gentlewoman from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee) stating that technical assistance should be provided to train national, provincial and local government personnel for capacity-building purposes as it relates to education, health care, human rights, and particularly in respect to women and political participation.

As we have heard this afternoon, Mr. Chairman, under the Taliban's brutal regime, their blatant disregard for the lives and the well-being of the Afghan people, was perhaps most clearly evident among half of their population, the women of Afghanistan. They have been made destitute, sick and marginalized. They were banned from receiving any education past the age of 8. They were denied proper medical treatment, and they were not allowed to work.

Today, the Afghan people are free with women enjoying the freedoms and opportunities previously denied to them under the Taliban. In order for our efforts in Afghanistan to be effective, it is critical that we continue to provide the Afghan people with the tools and the training necessary for the development and sustainability of educational institutions, protection of human rights, and implementation of political reforms.

It is imperative that our efforts focus on educating and training the officials of the Afghan government at the local level as local officials have a better understanding of the needs of their citizens and will be better prepared to address those needs.

This amendment also seeks to ensure that girls complete secondary education so they will be better suited to pursue their post-secondary education. Without proper education of its women and a society more open to women who holding jobs, Afghanistan's political and economic development is doomed to failure.

Providing Afghan girls with proper education will give rise to a new generation of confident and educated women with skills to pursue careers that will open unprecedented opportunities for them and enhance Afghanistan's economic sector. I urge my colleagues to support the Jackson-Lee amendment.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim time in opposition, although I am not opposed to this amendment.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. Without objection, the gentlewoman from Florida is recognized for 5 minutes.

There was no objection.

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of this amendment offered by our distinguished colleague from Texas (Ms. Jackson-Lee) supporting efforts to bolster women's political participation by protecting female legislators when they return to the provinces they represent.

This important amendment includes a sense of Congress stating that assistance provided to foreign countries and international organizations under this provision should be used in part to protect these female legislators.

It is no secret that Afghan women were brutalized under the Taliban rule. They were frequently beaten, raped, kidnapped and killed. They had no access to education nor health care and were routinely singled out for abuse simply because they were women. They lived in nightmarish conditions that few of us could even imagine.

Five years after the fall of the Taliban, the women of Afghanistan are making substantial progress in reclaiming their rightful place in society. They are working as doctors, lawyers, teachers, civil servants and in numerous other professions.

These women have overcome unimaginable obstacles, and they deserve our ongoing support as they work to build a new democracy. We must continue to work to ensure that they are not threatened, nor intimidated nor physically harmed by those who seek to bring Afghanistan back to the oppressive and brutal times experienced under the Taliban regime.

As part of the work that my daughter-in-law does in her military service in Afghanistan, Lindsay encounters many Afghan women and is impressed with the great progress they have made in such a brief time. Let us not go back in time.

Women legislators in Afghanistan are currently targets of attacks perpetrated by Islamic militant extremists. We must enhance the efforts in providing a safe and secure environment for these women to allow them to pursue their legislative duties and encourage future generations of women to seek leadership positions in Afghan society.

I urge my colleagues to support this amendment.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the amendment offered by the gentleman from Illinois (Mr. Kirk).

The search and the long hunt for Osama bin Laden and other major radical Islamic terrorists we want brought to justice in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region requires new ideas and new tools for law enforcement and those who are involved in this initiative. Mr. Kirk's amendment represents such an initiative, by improving our terrorist rewards program to reflect the reality of what we face on the ground.

Our terrorist rewards program has been a valuable and successful tool, and I urge my colleagues to adopt the Kirk amendment.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim time in opposition to this amendment.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. The gentlewoman from Florida is recognized for 5 minutes.

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. The issue of providing compensation to Afghan civilians is one whose efficacy is not questioned. Our brave troops on the ground offer such support through the allocation of the Commander's Emergency Response Program funding and other avenues that allow U.S. forces to compensate civilians for the damage caused due to ongoing U.S. operations.

However, the manner by which my esteemed colleague from Ohio, my good friend, Mr. Kucinich, seeks to go about addressing this issue would establish an extremely troublesome precedent regarding our operations in and our policy toward Afghanistan.

Simply put, U.S. taxpayer funds, U.S. assistance for Afghanistan, should not be used to fund long-term compensation programs under the Post-Operations Humanitarian Relief Fund of the International Security Assistance Force for damage caused by foreign forces and not U.S. forces.

By contrast, the underlying bill acknowledges ongoing U.S. efforts to support war victims affected by U.S. operations and then calls for a feasibility study to be conducted in order to assess if there is a need to expand U.S. assistance to Afghan civilian war victims.

The Kucinich amendment, however, seeks to circumvent this necessary precursor, essentially prescribing a solution to this problem before the diagnosis is received, and, again, seeking to assign U.S. responsibility for the actions of others. The United States could work diplomatically with participant nations to ensure that they make proper and substantially greater contributions to this relief fund.

However, I find it to be outside of the parameters for the U.S. assistance to Afghanistan to cover the international forces where they have fallen short, thereby putting the onus on the United States to step up financially for damages that we have not created.

Mr. Chairman, I strongly urge my colleagues to vote against this amendment.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the amendment offered by my distinguished friend from Nebraska (Mr. Terry).

This important amendment requires the U.S. Agency for International Development to give priority in awarding grants to nongovernmental organizations, to those based in the United States that have an established and cost-effective record in developing and administering such programs within Afghanistan.

In addition, it focuses on organizations that specialize in the teaching of the people of Afghanistan how to create and sustain quality economic and educational system. In this respect, U.S.-based organizations, with a proven track record of accountability and cost-effectiveness and the development and administration of such programs in Afghanistan, should be granted priority in the grant process.

This amendment is necessary, both as a means of ensuring accountability at all levels of the contracting process, and for proper oversight by Congress.

I thank my colleague and friend for introducing this important amendment, and I strongly urge its adoption.

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Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise to claim time in opposition, although I am not opposed to this amendment.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. Without objection, the gentlewoman is recognized for 5 minutes.

There was no objection.

Ms. ROS-LEHTINEN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in support of the amendment offered by my distinguished colleague and my friend, the gentleman from Maryland (Mr. Van Hollen).

This amendment seeks to promote the empowerment of citizens at the local level in the decision-making process, including reconstruction and economic development.

One of the key elements necessary to achieve success in Afghanistan is enhancing and promoting citizen participation in the reconstruction and economic development efforts in that country.

Citizens making decisions is a critical part in a democratic society, and this will enhance Afghanistan's political and economic institutions. Local participation, local decision-making will allow the Afghan people to take charge of their own lives and make decisions based on the needs of their local communities.

In addition to ensuring security, fighting the illicit illegal narcotics trade, related terrorist activities, developing the infrastructure for a sustainable democratic central government, the economic situation must also improve if Afghans are to have confidence in their own future and if they are to build upon the progress they have achieved thus far.

A lack of success in the economic forum has the potential to undermine political developments. It could risk demoralizing the aspirations of Afghan citizens and could jeopardize their ability to actively shape their destiny.

The United States must work hard to ensure that Afghanistan is never again a haven for terrorists, a major source of narcotics, or a source of instability or oppression towards its citizens.

Again, I thank the gentleman from Maryland for introducing this important amendment. I strongly urge my colleagues to support it.

And before I yield the remainder of our time to my good friend and our fearless leader, Chairman Lantos, I want to thank the excellent staff that has been working on our Republican side with the Democratic side on forging this strong bill; and perhaps next time, Mr. Lantos, we will come to the floor wearing tie-dyed T-shirts and love beads and singing Kumbaya.

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