Attorney General Holder meets in Kabul with Karzai, other top Afghan officials

By Ernesto Londoño
Thursday, July 1, 2010

KABUL -- Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other senior Afghan officials in Kabul on Wednesday amid rising concerns in Washington over the toll corruption is taking on the U.S.-led war effort.

Holder's visit comes at a sensitive time. U.S. lawmakers this week vowed to block U.S. funds for nonmilitary and humanitarian aid in Afghanistan in response to reports suggesting that Afghan officials are doing little to curb widespread corruption and in some instances have hindered U.S. efforts to bring prominent Afghan officials to justice.

On Tuesday, Afghanistan's attorney general disputed that his office's anti-corruption efforts are systematically stymied by political meddling from Karzai's office. Mohammed Ishaq Aloko said the only official who has tried to exert undue pressure on his office is U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry. He said Eikenberry suggested he could lose his job if he didn't pursue a fraud case.

In brief remarks after meetings with Karzai, Aloko and Justice Minister Habibullah Ghaleb, Holder made no mention of the controversies. Instead, he lauded the Afghan government's recent efforts to fight corruption.

"We have watched with interest from Washington the positive steps President Karzai and his cabinet have taken to help improve governance and enforce the rule of law," Holder said. "We applaud President Karzai for his actions and encourage him to continue his efforts, as much work remains to be done."

The Washington Post reported Monday that U.S. law enforcement officials who are partnering with the Afghan attorney general's anti-corruption task force have grown frustrated by repeated instances in which political pressure has derailed investigations targeting senior government officials and other prominent Afghans.

Those allegations and a report about billions of dollars, including aid money, being siphoned out of the country by Afghan officials prompted Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) to announce that she will block nonessential funding for Afghanistan.

"I do not intend to appropriate one more dime for assistance to Afghanistan until I have confidence that U.S. taxpayer money is not being abused to line the pockets of corrupt Afghan government officials, drug lords and terrorists," Lowey, who chairs an Appropriations subcommittee that oversees State Department and foreign operations, said in a statement Monday. "Rampant corruption fosters the conditions that threaten the security of our troops and the stability of the Afghan government and economy."

Holder, in contrast, spoke optimistically about partnership initiatives between Afghan and American law enforcement officials in counternarcotics and anti-corruption investigations.

"The support and commitment of the United States to improve the lives of the Afghan people and establishing the rule of law will really outlast any military presence in this country," he said. He did not take reporters' questions.

Earlier Wednesday, insurgents detonated a car bomb outside the gate of an air base that serves as a NATO military hub in eastern Afghanistan and engaged in a gun battle with guards in the latest unsuccessful attempt by militants to penetrate a military compound.

At least eight suspected militants were slain in the attack on Jalalabad air base, Afghan officials said. The Taliban asserted responsibility for the operation, the Associated Press reported.

After the initial blast, NATO officials said, insurgents attacked the base's guards with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms, wounding two.

NATO officials said the air base's perimeter was not breached. "Afghan and coalition forces are always prepared to deal with attacks on this facility," Maj. Mary Constantino, a NATO spokeswoman, said in a statement. "The response this morning was immediate."

The attack was the third such attempted breach of a NATO military installation in recent weeks. A similar assault at Bagram air base May 19 resulted in the death of a U.S. contractor. Three days later, insurgents using rockets and mortars launched a coordinated attack on Kandahar air base, the largest military installation in southern Afghanistan.

Also on Wednesday, a NATO soldier was fatally shot in eastern Afghanistan. More than 100 NATO troops have been killed in Afghanistan this month, which has been the deadliest for the U.S.-led international force in the nearly nine-year-old war.

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