Two classified cables sent to the White House by US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry last week are bringing a new wrinkle to the already protracted debate over how the US should proceed in Afghanistan.
The missives, first reported by The Washington Post, express Ambassador Eikenberry's serious reservations about deploying more troops to Afghanistan in the face of widespread corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government.
On one hand, they reinforce the doubts that many in the administration and at the Pentagon have had for some time. Moreover, they threaten to undermine the already limited options that the White House has to force the Karzai government to mend its ways.
President Obama, who left on a eight-day trip to Asia Thursday, has had eight meetings of his war council. But he has not made a decision about whether to deploy up to 40,000 additional troops to the eight-year-old mission there, and deliberations may continue into December.
The length of the debate has opened Mr. Obama to criticism that he can't make up his mind, but concerns about corruption in the Afghan government are shared by the Pentagon. The counterinsurgency strategy advocated by Gen. Stanely McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, intends to use thousands of troops to extend "good governance" across the country. But that requires a capable partner, and the US is increasingly concerned that the Karzai government isn't reliable enough. For instance, it is widely seen as having used corruption to bully its way to another, five-year term in August presidential elections.
Eikenberry's fears appear to play into Obama's own.
Pentagon officials have expressed similar concerns. But they don't seem to see the problem as one that should prevent the deployment of more troops to Afghanistan.
Reports indicate that the White House is considering a number of options – though none, apparently, yet appeal to Obama. All include sending more troops to Afghanistan as combat forces and trainers, though the numbers vary from 15,000 to 40,000.
Recent leaks to the press about the debate on Afghanistan as well as the Fort Hood shootings have so angered Defense Secretary Robert Gates that said Thursday that he would fire anyone discovered leaking sensitive information.
Such leaks are not in the best interests of the country, said Mr. Gates, as he visited a factory producing new bomb-resistant trucks in Wisconsin.
"Everybody out there ought to just shut up," he said.
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