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House Dems, Citing Corruption, Block Reconstruction Funds For Afghanistan

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The House Democrat who oversees funding for Afghanistan's redevelopment and reconstruction said on Monday that she is stripping money from her foreign aid bill in reaction to pervasive corruption. Dave Obey, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, supports the move made by subcommittee chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), according to an Obey spokesman.

Lowey cited pervasive corruption in Afghanistan as the cause for her decision to pull the funding from the appropriations bill working its way through her State and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee.

"I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists," said Lowey.

A Lowey spokesman said the restrictions would not apply to direct humanitarian assistance for projects such as refugee camps, but would limit funds for USAID and the State Department, which funnel money to reconstruction efforts -- money that is often siphoned many times over.

The request that Lowey is rejecting amounts to $3.9 billion for the 2011 fiscal year.

On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she recently traveled to Afghanistan and found the corruption staggering. "I was just there for Mother's Day, in Afghanistan, that weekend, and traveled into the country even more remotely than Kandahar," Pelosi said in an interview in her office. "And the corruption issue, it's problematic. And you know what? A lot of it is our money."

"This is about systemic, huge money," she said.

The chairman of the Senate subcommittee who oversees the same funding stream in the upper chamber is war opponent Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), who was chairing Elena Kagan's confirmation hearing and couldn't be reached.

Pelosi said that she wasn't sure if there are enough votes in the House to approve funding for the war operations, either.

"I don't know how many votes there are in the caucus, even condition-based, for the war, hands down. I just don't. We'll see what the shape of it is the day of the vote," she said, but added that she believes President Obama's surge should be given time to work until the planned drawdown in 2011. "The thing is, is this president has to give his plan a chance until next year, when we have to withdraw them," she said.

A Lowey spokesman said that the chairwoman's move was a response to a Wall Street Journal report about $3 billion in cash being openly flown out of Kabul International Airport over the past three years and a Washington Post item about top aides to President Hamid Karzai repeatedly derailing corruption probes.

"The alleged shipment of billions in donor funds out of Afghanistan and allegations of Afghan government insiders impeding corruption investigations are outrageous," said Lowey. "Furthermore, the government of Afghanistan must demonstrate that corruption is being aggressively investigated and prosecuted."

UPDATE: Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) took to the House floor Monday to make the case that the corruption is endemic to the occupation and that the only way to limit it is to leave Afghanistan.

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Ryan Grim is the author of This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America

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