WASHINGTON, June 14: A US defence bill approved on Tuesday proposes withholding 75 per cent of the $1.1 billion aid to Pakistan for the next fiscal year until the Obama administration reports to Congress on how it would spend the money.

The House Appropriations Committee also gave additional power to Congress to review US assistance to Pakistan. This would ensure that Islamabad cooperates with the Americans in the war against terror, as stipulated in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill.

The committee unanimously approved an amendment to create an independent panel of experts to examine the Afghanistan-Pakistan situation.

The review panel would include five Republicans and five Democrats, mirroring the Iraq Study Group. It would work with $1 million and deliver a report to lawmakers in 120 days, according to the amendment.

Republican Congressman Frank Wolf, who proposed the amendment, said the panel would provide “fresh eyes” to “make sure we are looking at this as comprehensively as we can”.

John Hamre, deputy defence secretary during the Clinton administration, would lead the group.

“Are we going to take care of the people [at home] who are unemployed or are we going to continue to do nation-building in Afghanistan?” asked Congressman Norm Dicks, a Democrat, while urging the Obama administration to accelerate the removal of US troops from Afghanistan. The legislation approved on Tuesday would provide $530 billion for the US Defence Department and $119 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the lowest figure since $102.6 billion approved in fiscal 2005.

The bill is $9 billion less than President Barack Obama requested.

The committee strongly endorsed the purchase of more V-22 Osprey aircraft, which was used to ferry the body of Osama bin Laden to a US Navy ship after he was killed in a raid in Pakistan on May 2.

The full committee endorsed reducing the $530 billion base defence budget by no more than $9 billion – less than half the $20.4 billion reduction made in the current year’s defence budget, which ended up at $513 billion. Among the biggest cuts, the bill proposes a $435 million reduction of a $498 million request for Raytheon advanced medium-range air-to-air missile, because of production delays.

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