WASHINGTON: A planned $1 billion cut in US aid to Afghanistan would come from funds for Afghan security forces, according to three US sources, a step experts said would undercut both Kabul’s ability to fight the Taliban and its leverage to negotiate a peace deal with them.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the reduction on March 23 and threatened to slash the same amount next year to try to force Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah to end a feud that has helped stall US-led peace-making efforts in Afghanistan.
After nearly 20 years of fighting the Taliban, the United States is looking for a way to extricate itself and to achieve peace between the US-backed government and the militant group, which controls more than 40% of Afghan territory.
Pompeo and other US officials have declined to publicly detail how the cut would be made. The State Department declined to comment on its plans.
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Two US congressional aides, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said State Department officials told Congress the $1 billion would come from a $4.2 billion Pentagon fund that underwrites about three quarters of the Afghan security forces’ annual budget.
“The idea they would cut security forces funding goes against US national security interests,” said one aide, arguing the money is needed to maintain the US-backed government’s ability to fight the Taliban while preserving its bargaining power in peace talks.
Most of the fund pays for salaries, food, fuel, equipment and infrastructure to support Afghan troops and national police.
Congress appropriated at least $86.4 billion for Afghan security assistance between fiscal years 2002 and 2019, according to a March 11 Congressional Research Service report.
“That’s the only fund large enough to support a $1 billion cut,” said the third source, a former US military official who also requested anonymity.
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US civilian aid is far lower, with the State Department requesting $532.8 million this year, mainly for general economic support as well as for counter-narcotics and law enforcement.
Pompeo announced the cut as he flew home from Kabul after failing to persuade Ghani and Abdullah to end a dispute over Afghanistan’s September 2019 presidential election.
Both men claim they won and have held rival inaugurations.
Pompeo said the cut could be reversed if the two resolved their dispute, which had stymied naming an Afghan delegation to negotiate peace with the Taliban after decades of war.