Earlier versions of this article, including in the print edition of Thursday's Washington Post, misstated the rank of Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry when he retired from the U.S. Army. He was a three-star general.
U.S. envoy resists troop increase, cites Karzai as problem
Thursday, November 12, 2009
The U.S. ambassador in Kabul sent two classified cables to Washington in the past week expressing deep concerns about sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan until President Hamid Karzai's government demonstrates that it is willing to tackle the corruption and mismanagement that has fueled the Taliban's rise, senior U.S. officials said.
Karl W. Eikenberry's memos, sent as President Obama enters the final stages of his deliberations over a new Afghanistan strategy, illustrated both the difficulty of the decision and the deepening divisions within the administration's national security team. After a top-level meeting on the issue Wednesday afternoon -- Obama's eighth since early last month -- the White House issued a statement that appeared to reflect Eikenberry's concerns.
"The President believes that we need to make clear to the Afghan government that our commitment is not open-ended," the statement said. "After years of substantial investments by the American people, governance in Afghanistan must improve in a reasonable period of time."
On the eve of his nine-day trip to Asia, Obama was given a series of options laid out by military planners with differing numbers of new U.S. deployments, ranging from 10,000 to 40,000 troops. None of the scenarios calls for scaling back the U.S. presence in Afghanistan or delaying the dispatch of additional troops.
But Eikenberry's last-minute interventions have highlighted the nagging undercurrent of the policy discussion: the U.S. dependence on a partnership with a Karzai government whose incompetence and corruption is a universal concern within the administration. After months of political upheaval, in the wake of widespread fraud during the August presidential election, Karzai was installed last week for a second five-year term.
In addition to placing the Karzai problem prominently on the table, the cables from Eikenberry, a retired three-star general who in 2006-2007 commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan, have rankled his former colleagues in the Pentagon -- as well as Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, defense officials said. McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, has stated that without the deployment of an additional tens of thousands of troops within the next year, the mission there "will likely result in failure."
Eikenberry retired from the military in April as a senior general in NATO and was sworn in as ambassador the next day. His position as a former commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is likely to give added weight to his concerns about sending more troops and fan growing doubts about U.S. prospects in Afghanistan among an increasingly pessimistic public and polarized Congress.
Although Eikenberry's extensive military experience and previous command in Afghanistan were the key reasons Obama chose him for the top diplomatic job there, the former general had been reluctant as ambassador to weigh in on military issues. Some officials who favor an increase in troops said they were surprised by the last-minute nature of his strongly worded cables.
In these and other communications with Washington, Eikenberry has expressed deep reservations about Karzai's erratic behavior and corruption within his government, said U.S. officials familiar with the cables. Since Karzai was officially declared reelected last week, U.S. diplomats have seen little sign that the Afghan president plans to address the problems they have raised repeatedly with him.
U.S. officials were particularly irritated by a 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 self-serving reasons.
"The West is not here primarily for the sake of Afghanistan," Karzai told PBS's "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" program. "It is here to fight terrorism. The United States and its allies came to Afghanistan after September 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 after a bombing late last month in Kabul. The blast killed five foreign U.N. officials.