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Cables show U.S. officials' sense of futility in Afghanistan

In the tumultuous period before and after the inconclusive August 2009 election, Karzai repeatedly accused the administration of both supporting and funding his opponents. "I pushed back strongly on this misinformation," Eikenberry reported. "I then asked Karzai if he took me at my word on this issue," he wrote. "Karzai, perhaps not wanting to back down in front of his advisers, said he did not. He said I should 'consult my buddies' on this issue," apparently referring to the other presidential candidates.

As the White House was beginning to formulate the new strategy announced late last year, Eikenberry - in cables that were previously leaked and were not included in the latest cache of documents - cautioned that Karzai was not an "adequate strategic partner" and could not carry out the plans the administration was considering.

This February, when the most recent cables are dated, embassy officials reported some of Karzai's most trusted aides had raised questions about him. In a cable describing a Feb. 24 meeting with Karzai chief of staff Omar Daudzai, the official "alluded elliptically to his dinner meeting the previous evening with [then-]Minister of Interior [Hanif] Atmar and other supporters of the President who shared 'serious concerns' about Karzai's actions" regarding the holding of upcoming parliamentary elections.

When Eikenberry visited the next day with Finance Minister Umar Zakhilwal, the minister, "apparently echoing Daudzai . . . went on to speak candidly about Karzai, saying that he was an 'extremely weak man' who did not listen to facts but was instead easily swayed by anyone who came to him to report even the most bizarre stories of plots against him. Whenever this happened, Karzai would immediately judge the person to be loyal and would reward him."

Other documents made public Thursday include a Dec. 16, 2009, cable recounting a meeting between Karzai and his senior national security aides and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in which Mullen resisted Afghan entreaties for more "sophisticated military equipment" and "heavy weapons." Their domestic security tasks, Mullen gently noted, did not require such weaponry.

While published accounts of Obama's decision-making during the late 2009 strategy review have emphasized Pentagon resistance to the July 2011 date he set to begin a U.S. troop withdrawal, Mullen is quoted as telling the Afghans that "the 2011 drawdown date was not a political decision, but rather a U.S. military recommendation."

At the same meeting, which took place as the administration was pressing other NATO countries to send more troops to Afghanistan, Karzai reportedly noted that "if the commitments are small contingents from many nations, it would be more of a 'headache,' " Eikenberry wrote. "He quipped that if these countries only announced their plan to deploy additional troops, without actually sending them, it would be easier."

Staff writer Rajiv Chandrasekaran contributed to this report.

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