US envoy opposes Afghan troop increase

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The Independent Online

The US envoy in Afghanistan, a former Army general who once commanded troops in the country, has objected strongly to emerging plans to send tens of thousands of additional forces to the country, a senior US official said last night.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry resigned his Army commission to take the job as US ambassador in Kabul earlier this year, and his is an influential voice among those advising President Barack Obama on Afghanistan.

Mr Eikenberry sent multiple classified cables to Washington over the past week that question the wisdom of adding forces when the Afghan political situation is unstable and uncertain, said an official familiar with the cables.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration deliberations and the classified documents.

Cables are diplomatic messages that may or may not be classified and carry greater heft than other forms of communication such as email.

Mr Eikenberry made the point that the administration should step cautiously in planning for any troop buildup while there are still so many questions surrounding Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the official said.

Mr Eikenberry is the front line US official dealing with President Karzai, the US-backed leader whose administration was stained by corruption and mismanagement.

It was a visiting senior senator, Democrat John Kerry, who was instrumental in persuading Mr Karzai last month to accept the findings of a UN panel that his re-election vote in August was too marred by fraud to stand.

Mr Karzai agreed to a second round of voting but was elevated to a second term as president without a runoff election when his challenger dropped out.

Since then, US officials have been alarmed at some of Mr Karzai's remarks and the lack, so far, of meaningful steps to clean house.

Mr Eikenberry's objections were a wild card in the midst of what had appeared to be the final days of Mr Obama's long decision-making process on how to revamp US strategy in the eight-year war. Eikenberry has participated in some of Mr Obama's war council sessions over the past several weeks.

A senior US official told The Associated Press that Mr Obama rejected all four options presented to him at what had been expected to be the last of those sessions yesterday.

Those options started from the premise that some addition of US forces is necessary, and included ways that Obama could meet or nearly meet war commander Gen Stanley McChrystal's preference for about 40,000 additional troops.

It is not clear whether Mr Eikenberry's objections played a part in Mr Obama's decision not to accept any of the choices prepared by military planners yesterday.

At his Senate confirmation hearing in March, Mr Eikenberry underscored what he called the urgency of the requirement to turn around the war effort, which has evolved into a stalemate in key parts of Afghanistan as the Taliban-led insurgency has gained clout.

"Time is of the essence," Mr Eikenberry said. "There will be no substitute for more resources and sacrifice."

He said Europeans, for example, should be expected to provide more mentors for Afghan police trainees. Another key to success, he said, is getting more civilian experts such as agriculture specialists and justice experts who can help reduce Afghanistan's dependence on the illicit narcotics trade.

Mr Eikenberry was the top US military commander in Afghanistan for two years before moving to Brussels to be deputy chairman of Nato's military committee in 2007. He had served one previous tour in Afghanistan.

Mr Rasmussen said he and Mr Brown were agreed that the way forward was a gradual handover of security responsibility to Afghan forces and the process could start in some districts as early as next year.

Asked if that was realistic given the controversy over the re-election of Mr Karzai and the poor international opinion of his administration, he told Sky News: "It is, of course, a pre-requisite that we have a credible government in Kabul."

He suggested a conference could be held to help "renew the contract" between Mr Karzai and the international community.

The secretary general expressed his sadness at the killing of five UK soldiers by a rogue Afghan policeman they were training but said he believed it was a one-off that should not be allowed to derail the process.

He told the BBC: "I offer my condolences to those families that have suffered from these tragic losses of life but I consider it an isolated incident and I do not think we should throw out the whole transition strategy because of one isolated incident."

Sir Menzies Campbell, former leader of the Liberal Democrats who now sits on the Commons foreign affairs committee, said Mr Eikenberry's intervention was "a staggering development".

"Its significance lies in the fact that this is the senior American civilian representative on the ground in Kabul," he said.

"If Karl Eikenberry, who has seen the Karzai government at close quarters, warts and all, is opposed to the deployment of further troops, President Obama will require to find a good reason for overruling him."