- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Collateral damage

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan is worried that the standoff between the White House and Congress over funding for the war in Iraq could wind up hurting the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan.

The $124 billion emergency spending bill vetoed by President Bush on May 1 contained money to fund U.S. forces in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. Mr. Bush rejected the bill because Democratic leaders in Congress refused to remove provisions calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

Ambassador Ronald Neumann, who is finishing up a lengthy Foreign Service career at the end of this month, told the Middle East Institute that it was “extremely important” that funds for Afghanistan “not be held hostage to other issues,” our correspondent David R. Sands reports.

The ambassador said he had found solid bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for the U.S. military and development mission in Afghanistan. But he acknowledged that the continuing resistance from the ousted Taliban regime, including suicide attacks and car bombings, has led to some confusion between the needs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“There is a danger that you have a mind meld between two very different situations,” he said.

Mr. Neumann, who took over the Kabul embassy from Zalmay Khalilzad in mid-2005, said he is more optimistic about the country’s prospects now than when he arrived, despite the huge security, economic and political challenges still facing it. The Afghan parliament has proven surprisingly effective, and the Afghan national army is making major strides.

He said the international commitment to Afghanistan, including a major NATO-led security operation, has remained firm, despite a recent jump in insurgent attacks.

But Mr. Neumann also warned that the country’s progress is still very fragile, and there is no backup plan if the government of President Hamid Karzai fails.

“In Afghanistan, we face today a choice between audacious success and dismal failure,” he said. “There is no alternative in the wings, no dictator, no military commander with a large army. If the effort to establish a broad-based government does not work, I believe the alternative is fragmentation.”

Sri Lanka visit

A top U.S. diplomat plans to raise human rights issues in talks with the president of Sri Lanka and get an update on the continuing conflict with separatist rebels on the South Asian island nation.

Richard Boucher, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, was scheduled to meet with President Mahinda Rajapakse late yesterday and visit part of the war-torn country today.

“Ambassador Boucher will discuss the peace process, humanitarian issues and human rights with President Rajapakse, government ministers, senior military officials and civil society leaders,” the U.S. Embassy in the capital, Colombo, said yesterday.

Some observers have accused the government of violating human rights in its response to continued attacks from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who have waged a 20-year war for independence that have included the regular use of suicide bombers.

The government blames the rebels for a breakdown of a 2002 cease-fire and has repeatedly called for a political settlement of the conflict.

Warning on Nepal

The State Department cited a continuing wave of “violence, extortion and abductions” by Maoist rebels as it issued a travel warning for Americans visiting Nepal.

“Despite the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement by the government and the Maoist insurgents and their entry into an interim government, Maoists continue to engage in violence, extortion and abductions. Maoists freely roam the countryside and cities, sometimes openly bearing their arms,” the department said.

It urged Americans to “exercise special caution” and “maintain a low profile” in Nepal.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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