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On trip, Rep. Israel expresses reservations on Karzai

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai on Dec. 20, 2009

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai on Dec. 20, 2009 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Credit: Getty Images

Rep. Steve Israel expressed a deep lack of confidence with Afghan President Hamid Karzai after meeting with him Monday, the first day of a two-day fact-finding tour of Afghanistan.

But Israel (D-Huntington), speaking from Kabul, said an hourlong meeting there with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, reassured him about the anti-insurgency strategy McChrystal has imposed since he took command earlier this year.

Israel cited discomfort with Karzai as among several reasons he remains undecided over whether to support President Barack Obama's decision, announced Dec. 1, to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan.

"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 [Afghan] soldiers and police.

"He essentially blames the media," Israel said. "He seems to think the perception is worse than the reality."

Israel is in Afghanistan with seven other members of Congress, which soon will take up legislation governing spending for military action there.

The visit comes amid concerns regarding the legitimacy and effectiveness of a Karzai government that has been riddled with corruption and which largely has been unable to extend government rule beyond the country's capital, Kabul. Israel is among critics who say the lack of an effective partner in Kabul makes it difficult to create the stability that will be needed to allow the United States to wind down its commitment in Afghanistan.

Karzai's own brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, has been linked to Afghanistan's heroin trade, which helps finance the Taliban insurgency. A Green Beret from Medford, Sgt. Keith Bishop, was among 10 Americans killed in an Oct. 26 helicopter crash during an anti-drug raid in western Afghanistan.

Israel said McChrystal assured him he has the troops he needs to carry out a strategy of using U.S. military to protect Afghan civilians as a way of turning the population against the Taliban - rather than focusing, as the United States had, on killing insurgents.

But he said McChrystal told him that soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq with grievous wounds, post-traumatic stress disorder and other challenges will require "a generational commitment" of money and support for them and their families.

"The operational tempo will put more strains on our military families," Israel said.

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