Friday, August 28, 2009

US wants 20,000 more troops to fight Taliban
The commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan will ask for 20,000 more international troops as part of his new strategic plan for the alliance's war against a resurgent Taliban, The Independent has learned.The demand from General Stanley McChrystal will almost certainly lead to more British soldiers being sent to the increasingly treacherous battlegrounds of Helmand, the Taliban heartland, despite growing opposition to the war.General McChrystal, tasked with turning the tide in the battle against the insurgency on the ground, has given a presentation of his draft report to senior Afghan government figures in which he also proposes raising the size of the Afghan army and police force.
But the request for troop reinforcements will come at a time of intensifying public debate about the role of the Nato mission. Last month saw a record number of troop deaths and injuries in a conflict that has claimed more than 200 British soldiers since the start of the US-led invasion in 2001. British losses rose sharply last month with 22 deaths, making it the bloodiest month for UK forces since the Falklands war. August has been the deadliest month for American troops in the eight-year war. Most of the deaths have come from lethal roadside bombs that Western troops appear unable to combat effectively. For the first time, the American public now views the fight against the Taliban as unwinnable, according to the most recent opinion polls.

The conduct of the Afghan government has not helped the mood on either side of the Atlantic. While US, British and other foreign troops are dying in what is supposedly a mission to rid Afghanistan of al-Qa'ida militants and make the country safe for democracy, the incumbent President stands accused of forging alliances with brutal warlords and overseeing outright fraud in an attempt to "steal" the national elections, the results of which are still being counted.
Last week, General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, intervened against a backdrop of heightened debate about the UK's military role. He stressed that the objective of the war was "to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al-Qa'ida and other extremists".
According to General McChrystal's draft plan, the number of Afghan troops would rise from 88,000 to 250,000, and the police force from 82,000 to 160,000 by 2012. These increases are higher than expected, with previous suggestions that the totals would be raised to 134,000 and 120,000 for the army and police respectively.
The US commander will, however, ask other Nato countries to send further reinforcements and will travel shortly to European capitals to discuss the issue. It is widely expected that the UK will send up to 1,500 more troops. At the same time, a force of 700 sent to help provide security for the Afghan elections last week on a temporary basis will become a permanent presence.
Following the withdrawal from Iraq, British military commanders, backed by the then Defence Secretary, John Hutton, had recommended in the spring that up to 2,500 extra troops could be sent to Afghanistan. However, following lobbying from the Treasury, Gordon Brown agreed to only the temporary deployment of 700. Criticism of the decision by senior officers has led, it is claimed, to Downing Street changing its stance.
General McChrystal, who replaced Gen David McKiernan as Nato chief in Afghanistan earlier this year, was originally due to produce his strategic report this month, but decided to wait until after the Afghan presidential election. According to Western and Afghan sources he is continuing to take soundings from various quarters and the finalised document is due out after it becomes clear whether or not a second round of voting is needed to decide the outcome of the poll.
As part of an initial troop surge overseen by General McChrystal, the US has already committed to boosting its forces from 31,000 to 68,000 this year. However Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was told by commanders in Afghanistan last week that those numbers would not be enough for what is being viewed as defining months of fighting to come.
In his meeting with Afghan officials, General McChrystal is reported to have stated that the extra troops would be needed to enforce a new policy of maintaining a presence in the areas captured from insurgents. This will provide security for residents and allow reconstruction and development.
Other Nato nations have the option of focusing on the training of Afghan security forces. However, say American officials, failure by Nato countries to "step up to the plate" would mean the shortfall would be covered by the US.
Diplomatic sources have also revealed that plans are being drawn up to sign a "compact" between Afghanistan and the US which will reiterate Washington's commitment to the security of Afghanistan while the Afghan government pledges to combat corruption and reinforce governance. Unlike previous international agreements over Afghanistan, the compact will be bilateral, without any other governments being involved. The timing of the agreement is due to coincide with a visit by Mr Karzai to New York, if, as expected, he emerges the election winner.

'Furious' Karzai and Holbrooke row over election fraud fears

Hamid Karzai flew into a rage when the US envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan raised concerns over alleged election fraud at a meeting in Kabul.

Details have emerged of an angry exchange between the country's president and Richard Holbrooke when they met the day after last week’s election. Mr Holbrooke had lunch with Mr Karzai at the presidential palace, and also met with his main rival, Dr Abdullah Abdullah, at the US embassy on August 21, according to diplomatic sources.

The three-hour meeting with Dr Abdullah went smoothly, the sources said, but Mr Karzai became angry when the US envoy - dubbed the “Bulldozer” for his negotiating style in the Balkans - raised concerns about alleged fraud and urged him to accept the results even if he did not win in the first round.

“Karzai accused the Americans of trying to push the election into a second round,” said one of the diplomatic sources. “He was furious.” The two men are said to have promptly finished their desserts, and shaken hands, before parting company.

A US embassy spokeswoman denied reports that there had been a shouting match, and that Mr Holbrooke had stormed out.

But the exchange illustrates the growing tension between the United States and Mr Karzai, who swept to power with American support after a US-led invasion toppled the Taleban government in late 2001.

Since the last presidential election in 2004, US officials have grown increasingly frustrated with corruption in Mr Karzai’s government, and with persistent allegations that some of his key allies, inclduing his half-brother, are involved in the drugs trade. They were also angered in the run-up to last week’s poll by Mr Karzai’s surprise approval of a law that critics say condones marital rape, and his alliances with several notorious warlords, who are also suspected war criminals.

They now fear that his allies may have tried to rig last week’s election, undermining the credibility of international efforts to defeat the Taleban and build democracy in Afghanistan.

With just over 17 per cent of the results released, Mr Karzai leads Mr Abdullah by 42.3 percent to 33.1 percent, but is still short of the outright majority needed to avoid a run-off after results are finalised next month.

Dr Abdullah and other opposition candidates have accused Mr Karzai and his allies of rigging the vote in the south - his main support base - where turnout was severely depleted by Taleban threats and attacks.

Mr Karzai’s supporters have already claimed that he won more than 68 per cent of the national vote - even though he won just 55.4 percent in 2004, and the last opinion polls before last week’s election put him on less than 50 per cent.

Michael Semple, a former EU official in Afghanistan who was accused of spying and expelled in 2007, said that the disagreement appeared to have been over Mr Holbrooke’s suggestion that it was in Afghanistan’s interests to have a second round run-off.

“That’s the point that we understand that Ambassador Holbrooke made; however we also understand that President Karzai disagreed with that fervently,” he said.

“And some of his supporters have been deliberately leaking the information about the 68% or 72%, which is why there probably was a battle royale in the presidential palace on the 21st.

US warns Karzai on fraud, corruption, militia ties

WASHINGTON: US envoys and lawmakers have bluntly warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai that American patience is running out, citing concerns about allegations of fraud and corruption and attempts to prejudge the outcome of last week's election, participants said on Thursday.

Karzai met twice with US President Barack Obama's envoy to Afghanistan, Richard Holbrooke, after the Aug. 20 presidential election, including a private lunch in Kabul that turned "tense" when the US envoy raised the possibility of a run-off.

After that confrontation, the two finished dessert and shook hands, officials said.

US tensions with Karzai, in meetings with Holbrooke and a visiting delegation of US senators, reflected both election-time stress and growing discord in American relations with the man who has been leading Afghanistan since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001.

Endemic government corruption and his close ties with former militia leaders have eroded Karzai's support, both with the Afghan people and with Washington policymakers.

The Obama administration was particularly disturbed by Karzai's last-minute alliance with Uzbek General Abdul Rashid Dostum, officials said.
"He (Karzai) has hurt himself in the eyes of a lot of people," a Western observer close to US deliberations explained of Dostum's role in Karzai's campaign.

US officials say Dostom, who fought for Afghanistan's Soviet-backed Communist government and later switched sides repeatedly during years of factional civil war, may be responsible for war crimes.

Karzai justified the move to Washington, telling officials he believed Dostum, who enjoys the overwhelming backing of ethnic Uzbeks in the north of Afghanistan, delivered key votes that could put him over the top.


Karzai would need more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off, but partial tallies so far show a close race with his leading challenger, Abdullah Abdullah.

Tensions flared the day after the election, when Karzai's campaign drew Washington's ire by declaring victory even though none of the results had been released by the independent election commission.

Washington fears such declarations undercut the commission and cast doubt on the election's legitimacy.

At their lunch meeting, Holbrooke urged Karzai to respect the election process, particularly given the possibility of a run-off. Karzai, who has told Washington that a run-off risks igniting ethnic violence, became angry, officials said.

Holbrooke has said Washington would make the fight against corruption a central focus after the election, a move that could further stoke tensions with a Karzai administration.

US officials fear allegations of fraud will undermine Afghan public support for whatever government emerges after the election.

"There's been wholesale fraud to the benefit of Karzai in the past but there is no evidence that he was personally involved in fraud," a US State Department official said after the vote.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed most Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is not worth fighting and only a quarter say more troops should be sent there.

"It's the last chance," Senator Sherrod Brown said, describing the message his congressional delegation delivered to Karzai last week during a post-election visit to Kabul.