Bush administration leaves aid for Afghan rebels out of proposed 1992 budget Administration tiring of war, official says

May 12, 1991|By Elaine Sciolino | Elaine Sciolino,New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- In growing recognition that an 11-year policy aimed at overthrowing the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan is outdated, the Bush administration has not requested funds for the Afghan rebels in its proposed 1992 budget, senior administration officials say.

In interviews last week, the officials stressed that the administration reserved the right to request funds for the program as the budget process continues over the next two months. And Congress can still recommend a continuation of the program on its own.

Although some administration officials remain committed to sending funds to the rebels, the move reflects increasing frustration that the Afghan policy is outmoded and hard todefend.

"The administration is tiring of the war," said a senior administration official involved in developing the policy.

Another official said: "At this time, there is no request for more money. It's true that the voices calling for an end to the program are getting louder and that every year it gets harder and harder to justify assistance in the absence of results."

The failure to include a request for aid for the rebels in the budget for covert programs, which remains secret, may be part of a larger strategy by the administration to induce Moscow to agree to a timetable for a mutual cutoff of aid to Afghanistan. According to U.S. intelligence estimates, Moscow still provides between $250 million and $300 million annually in weapons, food and fuel to the Kabul government.

The administration's action may also be aimed at forcing Congress to make the first move in requesting aid for the guerrillas.

Recently, the House Intelligence Committee, which includes some ofthe strongest congressional supporters of the rebels, decided to continue funding for fiscal 1992.

Since President Jimmy Carter approved secret aid for the guerrillas in 1980 in the wake of Soviet intervention in the Afghan civil war, the United States has funneled substantially more than $2 billion into the program through the CIA.

The program contributed to one of the bloodiest and most bitter regional conflicts of the Cold War, one that has left more than 1 million Afghans dead.

The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 did not bring an end to Soviet military and non-military aid to the government, and President Bush repeatedly vowed to continue aiding the rebels as long as the Soviets aided the government.

But some senior officials appear to be open to the possibility of a unilateral cutoff of aid. "The continuation of Soviet aid is a key factor, but to say our decision is contingent on a Soviet cutoff is tTC going a little too far," a senior administration official said.

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