Afghan Surge Gets Skeptical Reception in Kabul

Skeptical on surge: Critics blame corrupt regime, rather than number of troops.

September 21, 2009, 3:03 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan Sept. 21, 2009— -- Gen. Stanley McChrystal's warning that the U.S. could lose the war in Afghanistan unless more troops are committed to the fight has been received skeptically in this war ravaged country.

Some military and police officials have voiced concern that more foreigners will be perceived as occupying the country rather than assisting it. Many critics of the administration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai argue that no matter how many troops the U.S. sends, they will not succeed unless they are working alongside a less corrupt and more efficient government.

For his part, Karzai has said more troops are not the answer. The U.S., he says, should focus more on changing its approach in Afghanistan.

"The increase in troops and all is not going to address our problems," Karzai told CNN last week. "It's working through the Afghan people, it's having the right developmental environment, it's building the capacity of the Afghan government, it's bringing trust from the countries in the region."

Dauod Sultanzoy, an outspoken critic of the Karzai administration, says the problem has never been the number of troops in the country, nor the U.S. strategy. He says it is Karzai who has failed to provide the single most important factor: a level of vision and leadership that can inspire Afghans to support both the government and the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.

Sultanzoy says many Afghan politicians are aghast at the level of fraud committed in last month's presidential elections and says the allegations that Karzai's campaign committed the majority of it are enough to have Karzai impeached. Sultanzoy said more than one third of the parliament would support such a resolution, but it would not receive a two-thirds vote needed to remove Karzai from office.

"The U.S.' biggest culprit and biggest problem in this country has been this government," Sultanzoy said. "If the government stays, the effectiveness of the international community and [additional] troops will be tainted from the very beginning… and the people of Afghanistan will not support any process, I can assure you. We will be lucky if people stay on the sidelines. The worst scenario will be a rapid deterioration and erosion, a steep decline of the situation. If this government is with us, the people will not be with us."

While McChrystal's report does not pass judgment on Karzai, it emphasizes how important it is that the government of Afghanistan is seen as legitimate and free of corruption. McChrystal has long wanted the U.S. military to take a role in fighting corruption at a local level by encouraging troops to challenge dishonest officials.

"The weakness of state institutions, malign actions of power-brokers, widespread corruption and abuse of power by various officials, and ISAF's own errors, have given Afghans little reason to support their government," McChrystal wrote in the report, posted to the Washington Post's website. "These factors generate recruits for the insurgent groups, elevate local conflicts and power-broker disputes to a national level, degrade the people's security and quality-of-life, and undermine international will."

There are also in Afghanistan who doubt the very premise of sending more troops. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has said publicly there is a tipping point after which international troops will be seen as occupiers. Local police and military officials echo that fear.

"It is very hard for local people to accept any foreigners who come to our country and say they are fighting for our freedom," Gen. Azizudin Wardak, the police chief in Paktia province, told the Associated Press today. "To give the idea that they are not invaders, that they are not occupiers, is very difficult."

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