The US ambassador in Afghanistan has expressed deep concern about sending extra troops to the region, as President Barack Obama mulls over America’s military commitment.
After an eighth meeting of Obama’s war cabinet, the White House issued its strongest statement yet on the issue, threatening an end to American involvement in Afghanistan if corruption was not addressed.
“The president believes that we need to make clear to the Afghan government that our commitment is not open-ended,” an official said.
“After years of substantial investments by the American people, governance in Afghanistan must improve in a reasonable period of time to ensure a successful transition to our Afghan partner.”
The Washington Post and The New York Times reported Thursday that Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, a retired army general who commanded US forces in Afghanistan from 2005-2007, detailed serious concerns in classified cables last week.
Eikenberry participated by video link from Afghanistan in Wednesday’s war briefing and was quizzed by Obama about his concerns, which reportedly include worries about the “erratic behavior” of Karzai and corruption and incompetence within his administration.
Views at odds with McChrystal
The ambassador’s position puts him at odds with Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal, who wants more than 40,000 additional US troops over the next year and has warned that without them the mission is likely to fail.
Obama departed Thursday on his first presidential tour of Asia, apparently putting off for at least another nine days what may be the most fateful decision of his presidency.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added her voice Thursday to calls on Karzai to show he was trying to weed out corruption, warning that it was crucial to winning over the Afghan people.
“We are looking for measures of accountability and transparency that will demonstrate a clear commitment to the kind of government and outcomes the people of Afghanistan deserve,” Clinton told reporters in Manila.
Corruption a ‘huge’ issue
“The corruption issue goes to the heart of whether the people of Afghanistan feel that the government is on their side.”
Huge fraud that marred the August 20 presidential election highlighted the scale of corruption in Afghanistan’s government and has led to enormous international pressure on Karzai’s new administration to clean up.
Karzai was only declared the winner by election officials, whom he appointed, after his challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, abandoned a run-off saying there was no chance of a fair poll.
In a recent US television interview, Karzai dismissed allegations against top officials, including his brother Wali, who is widely accused of involvement in the opium trade.
The president has also faced widespread criticism for his alliances with warlords and one of his two picks for vice president, Mohammad Qasim Fahim, is widely accused of rights abuses.
Karzai hits back at allegations
The Afghan presidency hit back Thursday at the mounting Western concern over corruption, urging the international community to do its part by battling graft in aid contracts.
“We’ve pledged to the international community to further intensify our efforts against corruption. We are serious,” Karzai’s spokesman Siamak Herawi told AFP.
“At the same time, we want the international community to do more to eliminate corruption in spending aid money. We want the international community to eliminate corruption that exists in the contract systems.”
Concerns over Karzai and corruption have coincided with an upturn in violence. The United Nations recently announced plans to withdraw more than half its international staff after an attack on a Kabul guesthouse killed five employees.
Obama is nearing a decision on whether to plunge up to 40,000 more troops into the war and is down to four strategic options, the White House said on Tuesday.
More than 100,000 NATO and US-led troops are helping the government battle a Taliban insurgency at its deadliest since US-led troops toppled the Islamist regime eight years ago and Karzai was swept into power, then the darling of the West.