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U.S. envoy says wait to add Afghan troops

WASHINGTON — The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the last week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, said senior U.S. officials.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry's memos were sent in the days leading up to a critical meeting Wednesday between President Barack Obama and his national security team to consider several options prepared by military planners for how to proceed in Afghanistan. The proposals, which mark the last stage of a monthslong strategy review, all call for between 20,000 to 40,000 more troops and a far broader American involvement of the war.

The last-minute dissent by Eikenberry, who commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007, has rankled his former colleagues in the Pentagon — as well as Gen. Stanley McChrystal, defense officials told the Washington Post. McChrystal has bluntly stated that without an increase of tens of thousands of troops in Afghanistan in the next year, the mission there "will likely result in failure."

The president raised questions at the war council meeting that could alter the dynamic of both how many additional troops are sent to Afghanistan and what the time line would be for their presence in the war zone, according to an official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Obama asked Eikenberry about his concerns during the meeting, officials said, and raised questions about each of four military options and how they might be tinkered with or changed. A central focus of Obama's questions, officials said, was how long it would take to see results and be able to withdraw.

Eikenberry retired from the military in April 2009 as a senior general in NATO and was sworn in as ambassador the next day. His position as a former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is likely to give added weight to his concerns. It will also likely fan growing doubts about U.S. prospects for Afghanistan among an increasingly pessimistic public.

In his communications with Washington, Eikenberry has expressed deep reservations about Karzai's erratic behavior and Afghan government corruption, particularly in the senior ranks of the Karzai government, said U.S. officials familiar with the cables. Since Karzai was officially declared re-elected last week, U.S. diplomats have seen little sign that the Afghan president plans to address the problems of corruption they have raised repeatedly with him.

U.S. officials were particularly irritated by an interview this week in which a defiant Karzai said that the West has little interest in Afghanistan and that its troops are there only for their own reasons. "The West is not here primarily for the sake of Afghanistan," Karzai told PBS' The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. "It is here to fight terrorism. The United States and its allies came to Afghanistan after Sept. 11. Afghanistan was troubled like hell before that too. Nobody bothered about us."

Karzai expressed indifference when asked about the withdrawal of most of the hundreds of U.N. employees from Afghanistan following a bombing late last month in Kabul. The blast killed six foreign U.N. officials.

"They may or may not return," Karzai said of the departing U.N. employees. "I don't think Afghanistan will notice it."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

British expect decision soon

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says President Barack Obama will announce his decision on sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan within days. Brown told lawmakers in the House of Commons on Wednesday that he had recently spoken to Obama, "and I expect him to announce in a few days what his numbers for Afghanistan will be." Asked about Brown's comment, the White House referred to press secretary Robert Gibbs' statement Tuesday that Obama's decision was still weeks away.

Paratrooper's body found

Military divers found the body of a U.S. paratrooper who disappeared last week along with another soldier as the two tried to retrieve airdropped supplies from a river in western Afghanistan, NATO said Wednesday. Relatives said they believe Spc. Benjamin Sherman of Plymouth, Mass., died after jumping into the river to try to save his comrade, who was also swept away by the current. The second paratrooper has not been identified.

U.S. envoy says wait to add Afghan troops 11/11/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 11:06pm]
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