U.S. House Panel Backs Radio Free Afghanistan
By John Whitesides
Thursday November 1 10:03 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A House of Representatives panel approved legislation on Thursday that would establish a ``Radio Free Afghanistan'' to broadcast news and explain U.S. war goals and motives to Afghans in their local languages.
The measure authorizes spending $14 million for transmissions into Afghanistan under the auspices of the existing Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty service, which traditionally broadcasts information into nations without free presses.
Supporters said the service, which has not been endorsed by the Bush administration, was desperately needed to inform Afghans about their Taliban rulers and explain the ongoing military campaign.
``I think it offers the best chance of providing information that will turn the Afghan people against the Taliban,'' said Rep. Ed Royce, a California Republican who sponsored the bill.
The measure was approved by the House International Relations Committee on a voice vote and sent to the full House, where a vote has not been scheduled. The Senate has not taken up a similar bill.
The legislative effort comes as the United States has stepped up efforts to win support among the Afghan people and increase its public diplomacy initiatives in the region.
The Voice of America has expanded radio broadcasts into Afghanistan since the U.S. military campaign began last month, but some lawmakers have been critical of the service for not advocating the U.S. position forcefully enough.
A State Department official said in a letter to the committee last week that the administration was not ready to commit to the ``Radio Free Afghanistan'' concept yet.
``The administration is considering a menu of other options that will maintain quality and substance of programming so that radio broadcasting into south central Asia can meet America's foreign policy objectives,'' Assistant Secretary Paul Kelly wrote the committee chairman, Republican Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois.
Several Democrats said the service was not intended to compete with the Voice of America broadcasts but would complement them.
``The administration astonishes me,'' said Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, a Pennsylvania Democrat. ``This bill would allow the Afghan people to hear the truth about their country.''
The measure would authorize funding for 12 hours of broadcasting into Afghanistan a day, roughly six hours in Pashto and six in Dari, the two primary local languages. Royce said the broadcasts would require moving three transmitters from Spain to Kuwait at a one-time cost of $10 million.
He said that if the service had been operating in recent years the followers of Osama bin Laden, accused by the United States of masterminding the deadly Sept. 11 bombings in New York and Washington, would not have had such ``fertile ground'' in Afghanistan.
``We have here an effort to be a loud and clear voice of freedom and justice,'' said California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. He said the Voice of America ``was not doing their job.''
The committee also approved a measure facilitating aid to victims of land mines in Afghanistan, which is riddled with thousands of unexploded mines left over from the conflict with the former Soviet Union.
The panel also endorsed by voice vote a bill endorsing another round of expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which invited Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republican to join in 1997.
The next round of expansion will be decided at a NATO summit in late 2002. The measure does not endorse specific countries for expansion.
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