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House OKs Afghanistan aid bill

From the Associated Press

The House on Wednesday passed a $6.4-billion aid package for Afghanistan that would cut off funding to local governments with ties to drug dealers, criminals or terrorists, a standard that the White House says is unrealistic.

The measure was pushed by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who said not enough was being done to curb Afghanistan’s growing opium market.

According to a House report, opium poppy cultivation grew 59% during the 2005-06 growing season, producing more than 6,600 tons of opium.

The White House said the bill would tie the president’s hands in a complex situation.

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“Besides setting an unrealistically high bar, which in fact could encourage the Taliban to promote corruption among local officials, the provision creates a serious barrier to assisting those areas with significant needs,” the administration said in a statement.

The bill, passed 406 to 10, would authorize $2.1 billion in humanitarian, economic and military assistance programs for the budget year 2008, which begins Oct. 1. The remainder would be spent through 2010.

A companion Senate bill is still under discussion.

The House also adopted an amendment that would allow the secretary of State to reward Afghan or Pakistani officials for information leading to the capture of high-profile terrorists operating in Afghanistan.

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The House legislation also requires that President Bush appoint a coordinator to oversee a counter-narcotics strategy in Afghanistan and a special envoy to help boost Afghan-Pakistani cooperation and encourage Pakistan to permit aid shipments from India.

The White House said the provisions overstep Congress’ bounds and interfere with the president’s authority on foreign affairs.

Meanwhile, violence in Afghanistan continued. Two coalition soldiers were killed in a battle with militants in the south, and a woman who ran a radio station in the north became the second female journalist killed in a week.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization soldiers died Wednesday in “separate engagements with enemy fighters,” the International Security Assistance Force said. Britain’s Defense Ministry later confirmed that one soldier was British, but it would not disclose the other’s nationality. It said its soldier was shot while patrolling in Helmand province.

Elsewhere, U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops backed by airstrikes killed two militants and detained 19 others.

Zakia Zaki, owner and manager of Peace Radio, was shot dead in front of her 8-year-old son in their home in Parwan province, Gov. Abdul Jabar Takwa said. The motive was not immediately known. Zaki had led the radio station since it opened in October 2001, Takwa said.

TV newsreader Shokiba Sanga Amaaj was shot in her Kabul house Friday by two male relatives, police said.


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