US to Cut $4bn in Afghan Aid After Corruption Allegations
Claims that large amounts of money have been flown out of war-torn country but government has blocked investigations
A US House of Representatives panel has voted to cut almost $4bn (£2.68bn) in aid to the Afghanistan government after allegations of corruption.
News reports have alleged that large amounts of cash have been flown out of the country, while President Hamid Karzai's government has blocked corruption investigations of political allies.
The move to withdraw aid came as the US senate voted unanimously to confirm General David Petraeus as commander of the Afghan war, and the UK defence secretary Liam Fox insisted the British army must not leave Afghanistan "before the job is finished".
A subcommittee of the House of Representatives voted yesterday to block $3.9bn (£2.6bn) in aid that the Obama administration sought for Kabul, although the panel's chair, Nita Lowey, said the aid could be reconsidered once the Afghanistan government's efforts to fight corruption have been reconsidered.
Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that more than $3bn in cash has been flown out of Kabul International airport in the past three years, while The Washington Post alleged that officials in Karzai's government have been blocking corruption investigations of political allies.
"The cash – packed into suitcases, piled onto pallets and loaded into aeroplanes – is declared and legal to move," the Wall Street Journal said.
"But US and Afghan officials say they are targeting the flows in major anti-corruption and drug trafficking investigations because of their size relative to Afghanistan's small economy and the murkiness of their origins."
Last year the gross domestic product of Afghanistan was $13.5bn, according to the CIA world factbook.
Lowey said she has written to US government auditors asking them to audit all US aid to Afghanistan from the last three years.
The aid withdrawal came as the US senate voted 99-0 in favour of appointing Petraeus to command the Afghan war, after the dramatic sacking of the previous commander Stanley McChrystal last week.
However the unanimous support for Petraeus, seen by some as Obama's last hope in Afghanistan, came amid growing anxiety in among both Democrats and Republicans about an unpopular war, in which casualties are rising, ahead of the November US congressional elections.
"Regardless of who is in command, the president's current strategy in Afghanistan is counterproductive," said Democrat Senator Russ Feingold after voting for Petraeus – whom he stressed was "clearly qualified" for the job.
In the UK, Liam Fox appeared to defy David Cameron's weekend pledge to withdraw all British troops from Afghanistan by 2015, saying an early withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan would risk a return of civil war and act as a "shot in the arm to jihadists".
"Were we to leave prematurely, without degrading the insurgency and increasing the capability of the Afghan national security forces, we could see the return of the destructive forces of transnational terror," he said.
"Not only would we risk the return of civil war in Afghanistan, creating a security vacuum, but we would also risk the destabilisation of Pakistan with potentially unthinkable regional, and possibly nuclear, consequences."
Fox said Britain would be betraying the sacrifices of its fallen soldiers if it left "before the job is finished", adding that British forces would be among the last to leave Afghanistan, as they are stationed in Helmand, one the most dangerous provinces in the country.