Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Thats like a good report!
Peter Baker reported from Washington and Mark Landler from Kabul, Afghanistan. Reporting was contributed by Alissa J. Rubin from Kabul; Eric Schmitt, David E. Sanger and Elisabeth Bumiller from Washington; and Helene Cooper from Seoul, South Korea.
(FROM NY TIMES, DATED, 19TH NOVEMBER 2009)
WASHINGTON — President Obama sent his top diplomat to Afghanistan on Wednesday to press President Hamid Karzai to deliver “measurable results” on governance and corruption as the White House prepared specific new demands to accompany an American troop buildup.
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On Wednesday, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, left, greeted President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan in Kabul.
In an unannounced visit to Kabul, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Mr. Karzai privately that future civilian aid would depend in part on how his government performed in areas like developing an effective army and curbing cronyism, according to an American official. Publicly, she told reporters that Mr. Karzai had begun to tackle corruption but “not nearly enough.”
The trip, coming on the eve of Mr. Karzai’s inauguration for a second term after a chaotic election marred by charges of rampant fraud, represented part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to tie the pending troop increase in Afghanistan to more effective efforts by its partners in the region.
The White House is developing “clear targets” for both the Afghan and Pakistani governments, possibly with specific timelines, as a way to signal that the American military presence will not last indefinitely, American officials said. It is not yet clear what the administration is willing to do if the targets are not met.
Among other things, the officials said, the administration will insist that Afghanistan fight corruption, speed up troop training and retention, and funnel development assistance to areas the Taliban dominate. As for Pakistan, the officials said, the White House plan would press Islamabad to keep up pressure on its insurgents as well as on Al Qaeda and, most important, go after militant groups that until now it has not taken on aggressively.
Many supporters of Mr. Karzai charge his critics in the West with hypocrisy, noting that they helped put him in power. And yet, some in his own circle are also pressing him to clean house, recognizing that widespread corruption and the failure to deliver services are prompting Afghans to turn to the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
“We are asking that they follow through on much of what they have previously said, including putting together a credible anticorruption governmental entity,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters traveling with her. “They’ve done some work on that, but in our view, not nearly enough to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose to tackle corruption.”
During her 90-minute private talk with Mr. Karzai, which ran much longer than scheduled, Mrs. Clinton pressed for specific actions like increasing inspectors on American aid programs and certifying Afghan ministries to ensure they do not siphon off money, an American official said. She also pushed Mr. Karzai to make merit-based appointments to senior government positions and take a greater personal role in developing a stand-alone army and police force.
Gen. James L. Jones, the president’s national security adviser, made a similar trip to Pakistan late last week, where he pressed that government to do more. Any new list of goals for Pakistan would include taking on the Haqqani militant network along the Afghan border and the Taliban shura, or council, in the southern city of Quetta, both of which the government has been reluctant to confront, an American official said. The administration also wants to expand drone operations north into Chitral and deeper into Bajaur in the north and into portions of Baluchistan in the south, the official said.
Whether timetables will be applied to some of these demands remains undecided, officials said. Deadlines have been set for some goals, like training more Afghan soldiers, and they very likely will be accelerated. But while the White House is seeking to develop an exit strategy, Mr. Obama does not appear likely to set an overall time frame for beginning to withdraw American troops, as he once advocated for Iraq.
“The point here is to put in place very concrete targets that we can use as fulcrums to press for continued success,” said an administration official. “It’s not meant to be a threat per se, but a statement of reality. It’s not a bottomless well.”
But laying out such benchmarks in the past — most recently in September — did not change the course of events in that region, and aides said Mr. Obama was reluctant to threaten consequences aggressively if the goals were not met. Mrs. Clinton’s mention of civilian aid raised one potential point of leverage. The fact that additional American troops will flow into Afghanistan in phases over the next year provides another.
But even if Mr. Karzai is willing to clamp down harder on corruption, he may find it difficult to do so without jettisoning some of the very allies who helped him get re-elected. It is not clear that he is willing to replace enough people to placate critics — or if he did, whether his government could survive.
The new targets are a way of reinforcing the idea that the administration will not simply send more troops to Afghanistan unconditionally and that it envisions eventually beginning to draw down troop numbers after turning over the fight to the Kabul government. In his public comments lately, Mr. Obama has increasingly warned that his is not an “open-ended commitment.”
The message has three audiences, officials said. The first is the Afghan people, trying to rebut the Taliban characterization of American forces as occupiers. The second is the Afghan government, which is being told it needs to step up. And the third is the American people, who have grown deeply uneasy about the eight-year-old war.
“The task here is making sure that Afghanistan is sufficiently stable so that we can make that handoff,” Mr. Obama told NBC News during his trip to Asia. “So my goal is exactly what you described — creating a situation in which our footprint is smaller and Afghan security forces can do the job of keeping their country together. They’re not there yet. They need help from us.”
Mr. Obama told CNN that he was “very close to a decision” on how many more troops to send and would announce it “in the next several weeks.” He suggested that he would like to be winding down American military involvement in Afghanistan before leaving office. “My preference would be not to hand off anything to the next president,” he said.
Mr. Obama has already sent 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan since taking office, bringing the total American force to 68,000. After more than two months of rethinking his strategy, he has decided to send even more and is weighing how many.
Several people briefed on administration deliberations, who like others requested anonymity to discuss delicate matters, said Wednesday that the president’s advisers had been testing the reaction to an increase of 20,000 to 30,000 troops, while warning that no decision had been made.
White House officials said that after returning from Asia, Mr. Obama would meet with his national security team on Friday or over the weekend, his ninth such session, but they indicated that no announcement appeared likely until after the Thanksgiving holiday. A senior Senate aide said lawmakers anticipated a decision in time to hold hearings during the week of Nov. 30.
In Kabul, Mr. Karzai begins a second term on Thursday as a leader damaged by a tainted election, strained relations with allies and a record blighted by ineffective management and corruption. His inauguration at this pivotal moment, eight years after Americans began the Afghan war, raises the question of whether the Afghan people or American officials can expect better from him over the next five years.
While Mr. Obama turns up the pressure, Mr. Karzai appears caught among competing imperatives: the West, his supporters and his own instincts to be loyal to tribe and family.
“If Karzai removes all the people who supported him in the election, the warlords, and he doesn’t have support from the international community, then he could lose both sides,” said Muhammad Noor Akbary, a member of Parliament who worked on Mr. Karzai’s campaign. “He has to have some allies.”