Lawmakers seeking new standard for Pakistan, Afghanistan weapons

House lawmakers are directing President Obama to closely monitor and track weapons the United States provides to Afghanistan and Pakistan, creating a standard similar to one in place in Iraq, with the goal of keeping arms out of the wrong hands.

The House Armed Services Committee, as part of the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, requires the president to establish a registration and monitoring system for all defense articles that the United States provides to the military and police in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

So far, there has not been any legal requirement to track defense equipment and weapons provided as part of U.S. assistance to them.

The U.S. military has been deployed to Afghanistan since 2001, and Pakistan — where the situation has been increasingly volatile — is a key element in the White House’s strategy to stabilize Afghanistan.

The Obama administration has established a new Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund. It is a flexible spending stream that would permit more rapid and targeted U.S. training. It also would provide more equipment to Pakistani forces that combat insurgents within the country’s lawless tribal regions bordering Afghanistan.

The fund is similar to the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, which the United States has been using for several years to train and equip Afghan soldiers and police.

Lawmakers are wary that the transfers of defense materials through the Pakistan and Afghanistan funds may not subject to the same requirements in the foreign military financing process under the Department of State’s and the Pentagon’s jurisdiction.

Foreign military financing (FMF) is a government program, which finances through grants or loans the acquisition of U.S. military articles, services and training. The objective is to support U.S. regional stability goals and enable U.S. friends and allies to improve their defense capabilities. Congress appropriates the money in the international affairs budget, the Department of State allocates the funds for eligible friends and allies and the Department of Defense executes the program.

Without a good tracking system for items that may not receive the same scrutiny as those going through the FMF process, lawmakers are worried that defense equipment could end up in the hands of enemies as Afghanistan and Pakistan struggle with their security.

Lawmakers in previous years requested the same accountability process for funds going to the Iraqi military and police. The new legislation would do likewise for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, House defense authorizers are requiring Obama to assess the progress in Afghanistan in four areas in particular: assisting the Afghan people with building a functional government; spreading the rule of law and reducing corruption; reducing the ability of anti-government elements to carry out attacks in and from Afghanistan; and improving the economy. The administration is directed to develop goals and timelines to achieve the stated aims, in addition to measures of effectiveness for accurate assessments in each area.

For Pakistan, lawmakers require the president to assess progress toward long-term security and stability. Specifically, the president is required to report on: ensuring that Pakistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorist or insurgent networks; increasing effective civilian governance; and creating conditions for long-term economic and social growth and stability. For each area assessed, the administration is directed to develop goals, objectives, timelines and metrics for measuring progress.

The House Armed Services Committee approved its version of the 2010 defense authorization bill in the early hours Wednesday. The bill authorizes $550.4 billion for the Pentagon’s 2010 budget and an additional $130 billion for overseas operations.

As the committee neared approval of the massive Pentagon bill, lawmakers approved an amendment that could cause a rift with the Obama administration. House defense authorizers approved an agreement that could essentially extend the production of the F-22 A Raptor fighter jet for another two years, even though the Obama administration sought to end production in 2011.

Lawmakers gave a surprise boost to the F-22 — a topic that was not brought up until close to the end of the markup. Lawmakers voted 31-30 to authorize $369 million for the procurement of materials and items for 12 F-22s that the Pentagon would purchase in 2011.

However, the provision will have to survive an extensive approval process, as the House Armed Services panel was the first to mark up the bill. Appropriators would have to follow suit by actually writing in the funds for the advance procurement, and the administration is expected to fight any additional procurement of the F-22 beyond the 187 planes it committed to. The Pentagon did not want funding toward any new planes in 2010.

Additionally, lawmakers would have to find money next year to buy the planes — an increasingly difficult proposition at a time when the Obama administration is looking to tighten the belt and seeking to pay for other defense priorities.