WASHINGTON: US lawmakers on Tuesday easily approved urgent funding for President Barack Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan, despite a huge leak of secret military files that stoked anger at the unpopular war.
The 308-144 vote in the House of Representatives set the stage for Obama to sign the legislation, which provides some 37 billion dollars to fund the conflict in Iraq and pay for his “surge” of 33,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
The House also beat back a blunt challenge to Obama’s war-fighting strategy, defeating a resolution calling for the removal of US forces from Pakistan by a crushing 38-372 margin.
The margins called into question what impact the stunning disclosure of some 92,000 previously secret Pentagon documents on the war by the whistleblowing website Wikileaks would have on the US debate on the conflict.
But lawmakers — who face a war-weary public in November mid-term elections — argued passionately about the nearly nine-year-old conflict and Obama’s plan to right the faltering campaign in time to start a draw-down by July 2011.
“Wake Up America. WikiLeaks’ release of secret war documents gave us 92,000 reasons to end the wars. Pick one,” Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich, author of the Pakistan measure, said as debate began.
House Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer left open the possibility of “further debate” on the strategy and the presence of US troops, but stressed “until we bring them home they need that money.”
And Representative Buck McKeon, top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, invoked US forces on the frontlines and declared that “cutting off their funding in the middle of that fight is tantamount to abandonment.”
But Democratic Representative Dave Obey, chairman of the powerful appropriations committee, said he was “reluctantly” voting no out of doubts “that this operation will hurt our enemies more than us.”
“The Afghan government has not demonstrated the focused determination, reliability and judgment necessary to bring this effort to a rational and successful conclusion,” said Obey.
As the US Army opened a criminal investigation into the Wikileaks disclosures, Obama said the documents showed he was right to craft a new Afghan war-fighting approach and vowed to stick with it.
“We have to see that strategy through,” said the president, who declared leaked documents “don’t reveal any issues that haven’t already informed our public debate on Afghanistan.”
The disclosures so far have shed new light on a difficult five-year span of the war, ending in December 2009 when Obama unveiled his new stratey, but appeared short on blockbuster revelations.
Foes of the war were drawing strength from the leaks by the whistleblower’s website, which seemed to buttress criticisms of what Kucinich dubbed “corrupt” governments in Kabul and Islamabad and a sometimes unfocused US approach.
Kucinich and Republican Representative Ron Paul had seized the chance to introduce a so-called “War Powers” resolution, named after a Vietnam-era law aimed at boosting congressional control over overseas military deployments, to force Obama to pull forces out of Pakistan.
In Kabul, the Afghan government said the leaked documents showed Pakistan helped insurgents who target Afghans and that the country’s Western allies had an incoherent approach to the insurgency.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, denied in an interview with the US television network CBS that his government provided support to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.
“We just and only support the Afghan people. We support and we want to strengthen security in Afghanistan,” Ahmadinejad said.
The Obama administration and its allies in the US Congress — many of whom have expressed grave doubts about the conflict — sought to play down the impact of the leak and denied any shift in policy on Pakistan.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry said it was important not to “overhype” raw intelligence field reports, some of them “completely dismissable,” others “unreliable.”
Admiral Mike Mullen, the US military’s top officer, denied the leaks raised questions over US relations with Pakistan, where US forces are hunting for top Al-Qaeda leaders along its shared border with Afghanistan.
Mullen told reporters that US-Pakistan ties had “dramatically” improved in the past year, but warned “any links which exist with terrorist organizations” and Pakistan intelligence services are “just completely unacceptable.”
Veteran US diplomat Ryan Crocker, who served briefly as top US diplomat in Kabul and was US ambassador to Pakistan and Iraq, worried about the public will to see the bitter conflict through.
“Impatience is on the rise again in this country,” he told Kerry’s committee, warning that a failure of US resolve was “what our adversaries are counting on now.”