Defense bill includes money to sway Taliban
GRAPHIC:A look at the defense bill
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers convinced that an Iraq-style “awakening” is needed to turn the tide in Afghanistan have included funds in the fiscal 2010 defense budget to help buy potential insurgents’ loyalty and pay them to police villages.
Under rules outlined in the legislation, signed into law Wednesday by President Barack Obama, the money can be used to “support the reintegration into Afghan society of those individuals who have renounced violence” against the government and U.S. forces.
The payouts for former Taliban are part of $1.3 billion set aside for the Commanders Emergency Response Program, a broad fund used by U.S. military officials to provide quick cash to locals for construction, services or other on-the-spot security needs.
Money through the CERP fund is already available to commanders in Afghanistan, although details on how it might be used to sway former Taliban to support U.S. efforts still needs to be worked out by defense officials.
On Wednesday, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., told reporters that adding more U.S. troops in Afghanistan will not in itself be enough to stabilize the country, and that efforts must be made better engage the Afghan population.
That’s a message numerous lawmakers have repeated as the Obama administration deliberates whether to send thousands more U.S. troops into Afghanistan next year. Several prominent Senate Democrats, including Sen .Carl Levin, D-Mich., have publicly backed more money to develop Afghan security forces instead of sending more U.S. troops there.
October has been the deadliest month of the eight-year war, with 55 U.S. troops killed.
Reed, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, highlighted the Sons of Iraq program as a potential model for Afghanistan. Experts credit that movement — made up of former Sunni insurgents who were paid by U.S. forces to act as a makeshift security force — for helping stem violence while other Iraqi agencies worked on reconstruction efforts.
“The whole point ultimately is to get the local population to feel that you and their government are protecting them, and in the long run that’s the best way to live,” he said. “In Iraq, for several years we created a surrogate government through [aid] funds, and we may need to do the same in Afghanistan.”
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the president hopes to announce plans for his Afghanistan strategy in the next few weeks.