Congress

Pentagon aid to Taliban gets blocked by House vote

The House adopted an amendment that would bar the Pentagon from spending any funds to aid the Taliban

Members of the Taliban surrender themselves to the Afghan Government, on August 26, 2011 in Badakhshan, Afghanistan. The House adopted an amendment late Tuesday night barring the Pentagon from spending any of its funds to aid the Taliban insurgent group in Afghanistan. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

The House adopted late Tuesday night an amendment to its fiscal 2020 Defense appropriations bill that would bar the Pentagon from spending any of its funds to aid the Taliban insurgent group in Afghanistan.

CQ Roll Call disclosed last month that the Pentagon had asked Congress earlier this year for a $30 million fund that would at least partly be used in the coming fiscal year to defray the Taliban’s expenses associated with participating in talks to end the nearly 18-year-old war.

[Administration wants to reimburse Taliban’s travel expenses]

A Defense Department spokeswoman said after the initial story was published that the U.S. government would not pay the Taliban directly. However, the section of the Pentagon-proposed legislation that officials worried would conflict with anti-terrorism laws is titled, “Reimbursement.”

Either way, the net effect of the aid would likely result in covering certain expenses for a violent group that once harbored Osama bin Laden. What’s more, the Taliban is a well-funded organization, netting perhaps $800 million a year from opium trafficking and related activities.

That opium trade has, in turn, contributed, albeit not to the degree of drugs from other countries, to a surge in opioid-related deaths in the United States that hit nearly 48,000 in 2017, according to federal statistics.

The spending requested by the Pentagon might “implicate provisions concerning material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations,” said the Pentagon budget document, which included a request for an exception from those laws.

‘Absurd’

The amendment approved late Tuesday, by Michigan Republican Tim Walberg, was adopted 381-46 as part of a package of other widely supported amendments to a four-bill appropriations measure. The House is expected to pass the spending legislation on Wednesday.

Walberg, in remarks on the House floor Tuesday, citing news reports about the proposed Defense Department support for the Taliban, called the Pentagon proposal “quite simply absurd.”

Walberg alluded to the 1,846 American military personnel who have been killed and the more than 20,000 injured while fighting the Taliban since late 2001.

“Sending taxpayer dollars straight to the Taliban, despite the price paid by our men and women in uniform, is the ultimate insult,” Walberg said. “We owe it to the taxpayers not to waste any more of their money.”

Strings attached

The Defense bill does not provide the exemption the administration had sought from the law against aiding terrorists, nor does the measure allocate the money officials had wanted for supporting Taliban participation in peace talks, according to lawmakers, aides and the report accompanying the bill.

Moreover, the legislation contains a provision barring any spending to support Taliban participation in peace talks as long as Afghan government representatives and women continue to be barred from those negotiations.

The Defense money bill includes another restriction on such spending as well.

“Additionally,” the report says, “no funds in this Act for assistance for Afghanistan should be made available for any member of the Taliban unless a peace agreement is reached that promotes United States national security interests, includes the democratically elected Afghan government, and protects the rights of Afghan women.”

The Walberg amendment is a simpler formulation: “None of the funds made available by this Act may be made available to the Taliban.”

Still to be determined is whether and how senators will go along with the House’s positions on these issues when the chamber takes up its version of the Pentagon money measure and, later, when negotiators meet to resolve differences in the bills.

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