Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Joseph Biden (D-DE) pushed for the expansion of peace troops in Afghanistan today in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the matter. Testifying before the committee, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage did not commit US support of an expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The hearing room was packed with women’s rights supporters from the Feminist Majority, National Organization for Women (NOW), NOW Legal Defense Fund, Equality Now and the Women’s Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan. Both Senators acknowledged the presence of the feminist supporters and mentioned that security was the number one priority for Afghan women.
Both Armitage and Wolfowitz gave indirect responses to pointed questions from Biden, who asked whether or not the US would not to be part of the ISAF. In the same vein, Boxer asked how the US could oppose an expansion. “Why is there this hesitation when it isn’t going to be American troops?” Boxer asked. “It was this very lack of security that led to the rise of the Taliban in the first place.” Biden and Boxer also pushed for funding of a central government rather than funding the warlords that have been tied to violence and intimidation in recent weeks. “There’s concern that the warlords all have their own agenda”with no allegiance to the central government,” Biden posed.
The Feminist Majority Foundation along with other women’s rights, human rights and humanitarian aid organizations have requested for months that the number and jurisdiction of international peacekeeping troops be expanded in Kabul and beyond to ensure safe and secure conditions for the people of Afghanistan. Recent threats against women’s rights leader Dr. Sima Samar, Minister of Women’s Affairs, and other outspoken advocates to the loya jirga have shown the need for US support of expansion of peace troops, as well as attacks against international aid workers. Several international groups have already left Afghanistan while several others are threatening to leave. Approximately 68 NGOs have joined the United Nations in a plea to the US to expand peacekeeping troops and ensure security throughout the country.