A Senate panel Tuesday voted to invoke steep cuts on U.S. aid to the Afghan Government if the Karzai administration continues to insist on exit fees on U.S. property during the phased withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The amendment was added to the annual budget bill for the State Department and foreign assistance, for the federal fiscal year that begins Oct.1, by the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on State Department and Foreign Operations. The sanctions are sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the panel's chairman; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the ranking Republican member; and Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), also a member of the subcommittee.
Their amendment would withhold five dollars of U.S. aid to the Afghan Government for every one dollar in fees imposed on the United States for bringing equipment and supplies back home.
Leahy said, "I have seen some stupid things from the Karzai government, but this one is beyond the pale. It is blatant extortion, it's the last straw, and this may finally get their attention. We are giving the government a clear and unambiguous message. After all we have sacrificed in lives, in the wounds of our soldiers, and in the huge investments we have made to help that country, this is an insult."
Graham said, "It's ridiculous, offensive, and will not stand."
Coats said, "Over the last twelve years, thousands of brave Americans have heroically given their lives to break the Taliban's stronghold on the Afghan people and provide Afghan troops with military training and support. After all the lives and resources our country has sacrificed, we must not allow the Afghan government to exploit the United States further as we begin our anticipated draw down."
An earlier Afghan rule required that every truckload entering the country have an invoice of its contents -- a highly impractical requirement in wartime. Now that the U.S. military, U.S. agencies and U.S. contractors are shipping equipment out, as part of the phased withdrawal from the country over the next 18 months, fines of $1000 per truck have reportedly been levied, when such entry invoices cannot be produced.
The U.S. special investigator for Afghanistan recently informed Congress about nearly $1 billion in business taxes and penalties imposed by the Afghan Government on contractors supporting U.S. operations and warned of hundreds of millions of dollars in additional future costs if the exit fees are maintained.
Since 2002 the United States has contributed more than $90 billion in humanitarian and reconstruction programs in Afghanistan, not including hundreds of billions more in military costs.
The bill goes to the full Appropriations Committee for a vote on Thursday.