Martin C. Evans

Cong. Israel backs McChrystal, but not Karsai

In War in Afghanistan on December 28, 2009 at 1:28 pm

Corruption riddles government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai

Long Island Congressman Steve Israel expressed a deep lack of confidence with Hamid Karzai after meeting with the Afghan president Monday, the first day of a two-day fact-finding tour of Afghanistan.

But Israel said his confidence in the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan was boosted by an hour-long meeting with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces there.

“My faith and comfort level in the Karzai government has precipitously declined since I had an hour and a half meeting with him,” Israel said. “I don’t think he understands the importance of corruption… or the urgency of the need to train Afghani soldiers and police.”

“He didn’t inspire any sense of confidence that he understand the magnitude of the problem or is able to do anything about it,” Israel said. “He essentially blames the media. He seems to think the perception is worse than the reality.”

Israel’s visit, his fourth to the embattled country, is his first since President Barack Obama began putting his own stamp on the 8-year Afghanistan war this year by replacing the U.S. commander there and ordering an anti-insurgency troop surge.

Israel, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, is leading an 8-member congressional delegation to Afghanistan. Congress will soon begin grappling with new legislation that will govern spending for military action in Afghnanistan – spending that was running at about $3.6 billion per month before the surge began.

The visit comes amid concerns regarding the legitimacy and effectiveness of a Karzai government that has been riddled with corruption and which has been largely unable to extend government rule beyond the country’s capital.

Karzai prevailed in a runoff election this fall, after international observers said his success in an earlier round of balloting was the result of massive fraud.

Members of Karzai’s own family have been implicated in high-level drug dealing, in a country in which drug sales are a principal source of revenue for the insurgency.  An anti-drug mission in Afghanistan took the life of Staff Sergeant Keith Bishop, a Green Beret from Medford, who was killed in an Oct. 26 helicopter crash.

Israel said he shared with Karzai an article that appeared earlier this year in Long Island’s  Newsday reporting on corruption in Karzai’s administration, and said he worries that parliamentary elections coming this spring will represent a new opportunity for fraud.

“I told him ‘this is what my constituents are reading’,” Israel said.

“I’m concerned the American people are going to have a hard time continuing to devote dollars and soldiers to a country that will have had two flawed elections in the span of a few months,” Israel said.

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