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House Votes to Set Up Radio Free Afghanistan to Tell U.S. Side


WASHINGTON — The House approved legislation Wednesday that would create a Radio Free Afghanistan to tell Washington's side of the story in the war on terrorism, broadcasting news and information in the country's two main languages.

"Establishment of a Radio Free Afghanistan is vital to winning the propaganda war," said Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), the bill's main sponsor.

Royce has been pushing for the radio service since 1996, the year the Taliban rolled into Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, and established its fundamentalist Islamic regime. But Royce's proposal languished in Congress before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, which the Bush administration blames on Osama bin Laden and his Afghanistan-based terrorist network, Al Qaeda.

The House passed the bill, 405 to 2, and sent it to the Senate. It is uncertain whether a vote might occur in that chamber.

The U.S. government beamed broadcasts to Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation that ended in 1989. But the station went off the air in 1993 when Washington seemed to lose interest in Afghanistan, despite a civil war that vaulted the Taliban into power.

"The Taliban and the terrorists they are harboring use propaganda and censorship to maintain power," Royce said. "They must be countered. We've been asleep for years as the voices of hate have gone unchallenged. It's time we gave ourselves a microphone."

The legislation authorizes $19.5 million for the first year of broadcasts, which would be operated by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the U.S.-sponsored networks that broadcast to Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The networks have remained on the air.

"Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty helped win the Cold War; Radio Free Afghanistan can help win the war on terror," Royce said.

Unlike the Voice of America, which already broadcasts world news and information about the United States to Afghanistan, the new radio network would focus solely on news about Afghanistan. Royce said the objective is to give Afghans information that they cannot get from Taliban radio or other highly censored local outlets.

Tom Dine, president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, said his organization is ready to begin the Afghan service almost at once.

Surveys by the Voice of America indicate that most Afghans get their news primarily from radio, including short-wave broadcasts by international services such as VOA and British Broadcasting Corp. The Taliban's rigorous religious code does not permit television broadcasts or satellite dishes.

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