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WikiLeaks fallout reveals more cracks in Afghan war strategy

The continued political survival of US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry suggests the doubts he expressed about the war strategy have deepened in American government circles.

By Staff Writer / November 29, 2010

Gen. David Petraeus (l.) the top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry listen to Afghan President Hamid Karzai (not pictured) as he talks to Afghans in Argandab district of Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Oct. 9.

Allauddin Khan/AP

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New Delhi

The latest WikiLeaks revelations once again put the US ambassador to Afghanistan on record as a blunt critic of President Hamid Karzai’s government, highlighting the war’s corrupt and complicated dynamics.

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Ambassador Karl Eikenberry's name sits as a signature at the end of an October 2009 cable marked “confidential” that concluded, “one of our major challenges in Afghanistan [is] how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt.”

The memo also repeats allegations that Mr. Karzai’s half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, “is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker.”

Together with past leaked documents and Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s Wars,” the cables cement Ambassador Eikenberry as one of Karzai’s toughest critics and a skeptic of the war from inside the highest leadership circles. Eikenberry’s continued political survival suggests that doubts about the war strategy have deepened in American government circles.

“I don’t really get the sense that Eikenberry is far off from many people in the government about the nature of the problem,” says Christine Fair, a South Asia expert at Georgetown University. “I believe senior Democrats in the Congress really get this and don’t really understand why we are there. And Obama is sensitive to the prerogatives of his base.”

Before President Obama appointed him ambassador, Eikenberry served as military commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007 as a three-star general.

During the Obama administration’s 2009 debate on the prospect of escalating troop numbers in Afghanistan, Eikenberry argued against Gen. David Petraeus and other generals, who wanted to launch a full-scale counterinsurgency. His primary rationale: Karzai wasn’t helping win popular support for the Afghan government.

“Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance, or development,” wrote Eikenberry in a pair of November 2009 cables that leaked in January.

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