Exclusive: U.S. senators ask Pentagon if $1 billion in Afghan aid was cut

By Arshad Mohammed
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two Democratic senators asked Secretary of Defense Mike Esper on Monday what happened to the $ 1 billion in aid to Afghanistan. The Trump administration announced a cut almost three months ago, according to a letter reviewed by Reuters.
Senator Jack Reed, top Democrat on the Senate Armed Forces Committee, and Robert Menendez, top democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, asked Esper to explain whether and from which accounts the funds had been cut.
"Will implementing such cuts in funding affect the US military presence in Afghanistan?" they asked in the letter and asked for an answer by June 26th.
"If the administration has determined that this cut in security support will not affect our ability to pursue our national security objectives, what conditions have changed to generate such a substantial surplus?" they added.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the cut on March 23 to force Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah to end a feud that had helped halt US-led peace efforts in Afghanistan.
Ghani and Abdullah signed a power-sharing agreement on May 17, raising questions as to whether Washington would reduce funding.
After nearly two decades of fighting the Taliban, the United States is trying to free itself and achieve peace between the US-backed government and the militant group. Despite the Ghani-Abdullah pact, peace talks between the government and the Taliban remain.
Reuters reported on April 5 that the cut would come from funds for Afghan security forces, and on May 20 that the Pentagon had not withheld the money despite Pompeo's vow of March 23 to cut it "immediately".
On June 1, US Special Enforcement Officer for Afghanistan Reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, said he thought the money had been cut and referred questions to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Lincoln Feast editor.)

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