By David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan warned congressional budget-cutters on Wednesday that failure to adequately fund civilians working alongside his forces could jeopardize President Barack Obama's war aims.
General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee he was concerned that cuts being considered to State Department, USAID and other programs could leave civilian workers unable to build on gains made by the military.
Republicans who took control of the House this year are in a budget-slashing mood and have proposed some $2.2 billion in cuts to State Department and USAID economic support funds for 2011, much of which is intended to support U.S. programs in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, a congressional aide said.
The Democratic-controlled Senate blocked those cuts, but the two sides have yet to agree on funding for the military, State Department and other agencies through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends in September.
"I am concerned that levels of funding for our State Department and USAID partners will not sufficiently enable them to build on the hard-fought security achievements of our men and women in uniform," Petraeus said.
"Inadequate resourcing of our civilian partners could, in fact, jeopardize accomplishment of the overall mission," he added.
USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, echoed the general's remarks. He said USAID employees were working in Afghanistan to help restore civilian government and prepare for the departure of U.S. troops.
"In the most volatile regions of Afghanistan, USAID works side-by-side with the military, playing a critical role in stabilizing districts, building responsive local governance, improving the lives of ordinary Afghans, and -- ultimately -- helping to pave the way for American troops to return home," Shah said.
House budget-cutters have attempted to cut or eliminate 2011 funding for many civilian programs that help the U.S. respond to crises overseas.
Petraeus also criticized a proposal to reduce U.S. funding for the Afghan National Security Forces by as much as 24 percent, saying it would hurt efforts to train police and army troops to take over from international forces.
"That would have an enormous effect, a negative effect, on our effort, needless to say, and it would undermine, it would undercut our efforts," he said.
Petraeus said the money helped pay for training and basic literacy for Afghan security forces but also was used to build the institutions -- from ministries, to staff schools and leadership development -- needed to support security forces.
"We finally bit the bullet and said, 'Having a soldier who can shoot but can't read a serial number off a weapon is not the way to go," Petraeus said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by John Whitesides)