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Afghan corruption seen as risk to U.S. mission

WASHINGTON — Rampant government corruption may derail the fight against the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan even if as many as 80,000 additional U.S. troops are sent to the war, the top military commander there has concluded, according to U.S. officials briefed on his recommendations.

The conclusion by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal is part of a still-secret document that requests more troops even as he warns that they ultimately may not prevent terrorists from turning Afghanistan back into a haven.

McChrystal has outlined three options for additional troops — from as many as 80,000 to as few as 10,000 to 15,000, according to officials at the Pentagon and White House.

Each option carries a high risk of failing, according to U.S. officials, although they said McChrystal concluded that fewer troops will bring the highest risks.

McChrystal favors a compromise of 40,000 additional troops, said the officials, who described his request on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that he will decide on a war strategy and the troops needed to carry it out in "the coming weeks." Though he said weighing military and security concerns are key parts of his decision, "another element is making sure we're doing a good job in building capacity on the civilian side."

"Our principal goal remains: Root out al-Qaida and its extremist allies that can launch attacks against the United States or its allies," the president said.

There are 67,000 American troops in Afghanistan, and 1,000 more are headed there by the end of December.

On Tuesday, one U.S. military official said discussions within the Obama administration are ongoing about whether it is even possible to "surge" enough troops to overcome the corruption" and how crucial a legitimate government in Afghanistan is to the overall war strategy.

Some of Obama's top advisers, chief among them Vice President Joe Biden, want to target al-Qaida with missile-carrying unmanned spy planes and U.S. special operations strikes in Pakistan. But military officials and some diplomats argue that U.S. troops must continue to curb the extremist Taliban's influence in Afghanistan to prevent future alliances with al-Qaida.

Pakistani jets target militants

Pakistani jets softened up militant targets along the Afghan border Tuesday ahead of what the government promises will be a ground offensive into the Taliban's main stronghold, authorities said. The government's resolve to send large numbers of troops on a risky operation into mountainous South Waziristan has deepened after a week of attacks around the country. The military says 80 percent of the attacks in Pakistan are planned from the remote region. The United States has been encouraging Pakistan to take strong action against insurgents who are using its soil as a base for attacks in Afghanistan.

Afghan corruption seen as risk to U.S. mission 10/14/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 14, 2009 12:01am]

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