Two prominent senators are threatening severe cuts of federal aid to Afghanistan if the Afghan government continues to impose exit taxes on U.S. military equipment shipped home.
On Tuesday a Senate appropriations subcommittee passed the Senate’s 2014 foreign operations bill with an amendment that withholds $5 in foreign aid to Afghanistan for every $1 in fees imposed on the United States, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. forces have begun to wind down their presence in Afghanistan, drawing to a close a military intervention that began after intelligence revealed the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were plotted inside that country. The prolonged engagement dislodged the conservative Taliban government, but the resulting leadership of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been contentious.
The Senate amendment comes on the heels of a report in The Washington Post last week that the Afghan government has already slapped the U.S. military with $70 million in exit fines – $1,000 for each shipping container that doesn’t have validated customs forms.
The co-sponsor of the amendment, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), called the taxes “ridiculous” after U.S. taxpayers spent nearly $90 billion since 2002 to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan, not including military costs.
Because of the fines, the military is relying more heavily on air transportation, adding hundreds of millions to the costs of the drawdown at a time when the Pentagon is already coping with steep budget cuts.
“I have seen some stupid things from that government,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), another co-sponsor of the amendment and chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, told the Associated Press. “I have seen some things that make you wonder what universe they live in. But this one just went beyond the pale.”
The exit fines are the latest in a larger dispute over Kabul’s authority to tax foreign militaries and contractors.
The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction revealed in May that the Afghan government has levied nearly $1 billion in business taxes and fines on U.S. contractors and hundreds of millions more in “improper fees.” SIGAR warned that Afghanistan would continue racking up the tax bill if Congress didn’t take action.
The full Senate is expected to vote on the $50.6 billion appropriations bill in the coming weeks before leaving for August recess.