Congress gives Obama long-delayed Afghan war funds
WASHINGTON/KABUL (Reuters) - The Congress on Tuesday gave President Barack Obama long-delayed funding for his troop increase in Afghanistan despite opposition from many fellow Democrats, while Obama played down the gravity of leaked war documents.
In Kabul, the Afghan government accused the United States of ignoring Pakistan's role in the Taliban insurgency as the fallout continued from Sunday's unauthorized release of 91,000 classified U.S. military reports on the war.
Congress, controlled by Obama's Democratic Party, took six months to give him the funding he sought to pay for the 30,000 extra troops he is sending to Afghanistan to try to break a resurgent Taliban in the nine-year-old war.
The House of Representatives gave final approval to $37 billion in funding for the war effort by a vote of 308 to 114 but more Republicans than Democrats voted for it. In all, 102 House Democrats voted "no." The Senate previously passed the bill, which now goes to Obama to sign into law.
Democrats are deeply divided over the war. The Pentagon had pushed hard for the money, saying it would have had to cut back civilian salaries if the money was not approved by August.
Supporters of the measure argued it was wrong to delay funding for troops already sent to war.
The measure provides $33 billion mostly for the U.S. military in Afghanistan but with some covering expenses in Iraq. There is also nearly $4 billion for a related civilian surge of economic aid to Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
The $37 billion is in addition to about $130 billion Congress already approved for Afghanistan and Iraq for this year. Congress has appropriated more than $1 trillion for the two wars since 2001.
"NO BIG REVELATIONS"
The leaked documents, made public by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, detailed allegations that U.S. forces sought to cover up civilian deaths and described American concerns that Pakistan secretly aided Taliban militants even as it took billions of dollars in U.S. aid.
In his first public comments on the leak, Obama said it underscored the need to stick with his war strategy.
"While I'm concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is these documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan," Obama told reporters.
The general who Obama nominated to head the command that oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq agreed.
"I've seen no big revelations," General James Mattis, nominated to lead U.S. Central Command, told a Senate hearing. "One of the newspaper headlines was that 'The war is a tense and dangerous thing.' So if that is news, I don't know who it's news to on this planet."
Some analysts said the revelations could be damaging as the White House seeks to shore up sagging public support for the war while setting the stage to start withdrawing U.S. troops by Obama's target date of July 2011.
Richard Holbrooke, the U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, will testify on Wednesday before a House panel and could face sharp questions from its chair Nita Lowey, who said in June said she would cut billions of dollars in aid for Afghanistan because of reports of corruption.
The Afghan government, which is seeking more control over foreign aid, said Washington has pursued a contradictory policy in the war by ignoring Pakistan's links to the insurgency. But experts said Pakistan's relationship with the United States is unlikely to be changed by the disclosure.
In its first reaction to the leak, Afghanistan's National Security Council said the United States had failed to attack the patrons and supporters of the Taliban hiding in Pakistan throughout the war.
"With regret ... our allies did not show necessary attention about the external support for the international terrorists ... for the regional stability and global security," the council said in a statement.
Afghanistan has long blamed Pakistan for meddling in its affairs, accusing its neighbor of plotting attacks to destabilize it. Pakistan, whose military and spy agency have had long-standing ties to the Taliban, denies involvement in the insurgency and says it is a victim of militancy itself.
In Afghanistan, the remains of one of two U.S. sailors who disappeared last week were found in the east of the country and the search continued for the second man, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said.
On Sunday, the Taliban said they were holding one of the two sailors who had strayed into territory controlled by the insurgents south of Kabul and that the other had been killed.
The Afghan government and NATO officials disputed each others' accounts of reports that more than 50 civilians were killed in a NATO rocket attack on Friday when they were caught up in fighting in Helmand province.
Government spokesman Siamak Herawi said 52 people died, many of them women and children. The NATO-led force said a preliminary investigation had not yet revealed any civilian casualties.
Civilian deaths caused by foreign forces are a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, whose 150,000 troops are engaged in an increasingly bloody war with the insurgents.