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U.S. to temper stance on Afghan corruption

Disputes in the volatile region highlight flaring tensions as U.S. troops surge into southern Afghanistan, an area once patrolled almost solely by NATO allies.

Instead, the military has sought to limit the amount of money flowing to Ahmed Wali Karzai by awarding lucrative contracts for supplies and services to firms that he and his relatives do not control.

Recently, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan, asked a group of senior officers to study more closely how U.S. reconstruction and logistics contracts are awarded. He also said he planned to publish contracting rules that would help ensure that U.S. spending practices weren't fueling discontent by excluding influential groups and driving them to support the Taliban insurgency. Such a move would be welcomed by President Karzai, who has argued that foreign money is fueling corruption.

Gates also has said that the United States must do more to ensure that its contracting practices aren't fueling corruption.

The growing understanding that military commanders will have to work with some corrupt officials and warlords hasn't led them to abandon time-consuming efforts to build local government capacity. In areas where U.S. and Afghan forces have driven out the Taliban, they are working with locals to assemble councils made up of elders that will help decide how reconstruction money is spent and serve as a check on government abuses.

"That representative council is important because that is really the link between the people and the district leadership," said Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Afghanistan.

Even building effective local councils will take time in areas where U.S. forces have little to no knowledge of the key players and power relationships.

U.S. forces are only now beginning to push into areas that have had little or no American presence in recent years and to develop an intimate knowledge of the players and power relationships.

"We have never had the granular understanding of local circumstances in Afghanistan that we achieved over time in Iraq," Petraeus said this week. "One of the key elements in our ability to be fairly agile in our activities in Iraq during the surge was a pretty good understanding of who the power brokers were in local areas and how the systems were supposed to work and how they really worked. . . . That enabled us enormously." Staff writer Rajiv Chandrasekaran in Washington contributed to this report.

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