Panel agrees to withhold $3.9B in aid to Afghanistan

The assistance funds are blocked until the panel can hold hearings into the alleged corruption.

Responding to allegations that billions of dollars in U.S. financial assistance to Afghanistan is being lost to corruption, the House State-Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee withheld the $3.9 billion in aid requested for the war-torn country, while approving a $52.8 billion fiscal 2011 spending bill on Wednesday.

The bill, approved by a unanimous voice vote, already cut $4 billion from President Obama's request to fund the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development and dozens of foreign assistance and cooperation programs.

The Afghan assistance funds are blocked until the panel can hold hearings into the alleged corruption, which are expected early after the Independence Day recess, State-Foreign Operations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said. Lowey and ranking member Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, also requested the Government Accountability Office to conduct a detailed audit of all U.S. funds provided to Afghanistan for the last three fiscal years.

While stressing the importance of Afghanistan to U.S. national security and her support for assistance to education, economic development, health care and enhancement of women's rights, Lowey said: "We have an obligation to every American to ensure that their hard-earned tax dollars are not squandered through corruption and graft."

Lowey also expressed her admiration for the U.S. troops and civilians engaged in Afghanistan but noted the success of the mission there "is entirely dependent on the capability and commitment of the Afghans to govern effectively."

Granger echoed Lowey's concern about the alleged corruption and said it was essential that the investigations do not affect execution of the military strategy.

The bill would provide $11.7 billion for State, $691 million below the president's request. Most of the cut came from diplomatic and consular programs. But the bill added $114 million to enhance security at embassies and diplomatic missions.

The measure would grant $16.5 billion to the array of international organizations, which included minor cuts in nearly every one.

Administration of foreign assistance, which includes USAID administration account, would receive $1.7 billion, $37 million below the request.

Bilateral economic assistance programs, which includes aid to displace persons and refugees, disaster assistance efforts, global health initiatives and USAID's assistance programs, would receive $23.2 billion, a cut of $1.4 billion from Obama's request.

International security assistance programs, which includes peacekeeping, foreign military education and training and foreign military assistance, would get $8.9 billion, a reduction of just over $1 billion.

Subcommittee Democrats rejected on a 9-5 vote an attempt by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., to cut the funding level back to the fiscal 2010 total of $48.9 billion.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., noted that the Budget Enforcement Act, which the House is expected to act on Thursday, could cut all of the appropriations by 15 percent.