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U.S. Must Focus Efforts In Afghanistan

Location: Washington, DC

U.S. MUST FOCUS EFFORTS IN AFGHANISTAN -- (House of Representatives - February 27, 2007)

Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I come to the floor this evening to discuss more recent developments regarding the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Taliban and al Qaeda seem to be growing in strength, and the evidence shows that they are in the planning stages for a spring offensive.

Mr. Speaker, I have spoken on the floor many times about the forgotten war in Afghanistan. It was promising to see the Bush administration finally wake up and bring the issue to the forefront this weekend with Vice President Dick Cheney making a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan. I was relieved to hear that Vice President Cheney was not hurt after a deadly suicide bombing took place near the U.S. military base he was visiting in Afghanistan.

A few hours after the attack, a Taliban official took credit for the tragic bombing and claimed that it was an attack on the Vice President, and this incident only underscores the recent resurgence the Taliban and al Qaeda have seen in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The details of Vice President Cheney's trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan were kept extremely classified. This is in contrast with last year, when President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both visited Pakistan with far less secrecy. The increased level of confidentiality for Vice President Cheney's trip illustrates the growing strength of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shows that the administration is obviously aware of the increased dangers that al Qaeda poses in the region.

During his trip to Pakistan, the Vice President apparently delivered a stiff message, as he said, to Pakistani President Musharraf. The administration will not provide details of the encounter between the two leaders, but reports claim that the Vice President warned President Musharraf that American aid to Pakistan could be in jeopardy.

The Vice President is obviously referencing provisions in H.R. 1, a bill crafted by Democrats in Congress, that implements the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission. These provisions will end U.S. military assistance and armed sales licensing to Pakistan unless the Pakistani President certifies that the Islamabad Government makes all possible efforts to end Taliban activities in Pakistan.

Now, President Musharraf responded to these comments from Vice President Cheney by claiming that ``Pakistan does not accept dictation from any side or any source.'

It is unacceptable though, in my opinion, Mr. Speaker, for the Pakistani President to completely disregard the numerous accounts that show al Qaeda training camps flourishing in the western region of his country.

The Pakistani President seems to forget that the U.S. has sent over $10 billion in aid to Pakistan over the last 5 years alone. It is my opinion that unless President Musharraf takes necessary steps to eradicate al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan, this aid should be put to an end.

It is encouraging to see the Bush administration increase the focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan, but more needs to be done to ensure the Taliban doesn't reach the level of power it achieved prior to the U.S. invasion in 2001. Taliban commanders are already claiming that they have 10,000 fighters and thousands of suicide bombers at their disposal.

The U.S. and NATO must also work to support local elders in towns such as Musa Qala, where a failed peace deal between town leaders and NATO troops has allowed the Taliban regime to regain control of the town. It is clear that the Taliban has regrouped and that peace deals, such as the one in Musa Qala, are dangerous and cannot be relied upon without proper support from U.S. and NATO troops.

Furthermore, our country must focus the humanitarian assistance we are sending to Afghanistan on rural development efforts that give Afghan farmers an alternative to the illicit opium trade.

Mr. Speaker, President Bush wrongly continues the war in Iraq at the expense of the largely forgotten war in Afghanistan. I urge my colleagues to keep the attention on where the real war on terror is happening, and that is in Afghanistan.

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