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Casey pushes protection of women in Afghanistan

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Joint Economic Committee Chairman, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., makes his opening remarks on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, during the committee's hearing entitled: 'Fiscal Cliff: How to Protect the Middle Class, Sustain Long-Term Economic Growth, and Reduce the Federal Deficit'. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

American lawmakers should pay attention to corruption and the security environment in Afghanistan as the country prepares for its 2014 elections, Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey said Wednesday.

Casey, D-Scranton, one of several members of Congress who met with Afghan President Harmid Karzai as he opened a three-day visit to Washington, said the United States should continue to demand protection of Afghan women and girls during the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces.

The White House said Tuesday it is preparing to withdraw most of the 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and may leave no forces there after December 2014. Karzai is scheduled to meet with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday and President Obama on Friday.

Casey said he emphasized with Karzai that engaging women in building Afghanistan society and government will help with its overall success. He urged better transparency in elections.

“I was upfront with him on my criticism of the 2009 elections,” said Casey, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs, a position that could influence billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Afghanistan annually.

Casey said they talked about U.S. and NATO support beyond the troops' pullout date.

“We, of course, heard questions from him about how many troops will remain after 2014,” Casey said. “He didn't necessarily express an opinion about a number but I think that the understanding that our government has with his needs to be more fully explored. I am not sure we are on the same page.”

Casey's office said he and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate's minority leader, met with Karzai at the Capitol. Freshmen Sens. Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, and Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, were present.

Casey said he and Karzai disagree about the handling of evident corruption in the last election. “I don't agree with his assessment,” he said.

But Casey praised Karzai's dedication to helping Afghan women become involved in civil society. “Millions of girls are enrolled in school because of those gains and progress,” he said.

In December, Congress passed a bill sponsored by Casey and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, to help Afghan women and girls as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

The Afghan Women and Girls Security Promotion Act requires the Defense Department and Department of State to produce a detailed report and recommendations on ways to protect women during the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces.

Casey has said that making women's security a priority “will go a long way toward achieving our overall goal of a secure and stable Afghanistan.”

Casey led a congressional delegation trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan in August 2011 with the intent of pressing government officials to implement a strategy to restrict the flow of ingredients used to make roadside bombs, the biggest killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

He said upon his return that “significant challenges remain,” and appeared to refer to Karzai when he added: “I hope to see continued development of the Afghan forces and believe that significant improvements must be made in Afghan governance in order to alleviate the war's burden on our troops, their families and American taxpayers.”

Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at szito@tribweb.com.

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