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Despite U.S. plea, Karzai wouldn't oust aide

WASHINGTON - U.S. officials pressured Afghan President Hamid Karzai to oust a former warlord from atop the energy and water ministry a year ago because they considered him corrupt and ineffective, and threatened to end aid unless he went.

Karzai rebuffed the request, according to secret diplomatic records, and the minister kept his perch at an agency that controls $2 billion in U.S. and allied projects.

The State Department correspondence, written as Karzai was assembling a cabinet shortly after his 2009 re-election, reveals just how little influence U.S. officials have over the Afghan leader on pressing issues such as corruption.

Reining in graft is seen as vital to Afghanistan's long-term stability. President Barack Obama last month cited an urgent need for political and economic progress even as military successes have blunted the insurgency in some regions. But U.S. aid to Afghanistan has continued despite the dispute over the former warlord in December 2009.

U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry pressured Karzai to remove Ismail Khan, a once powerful mujahedeen commander, from the top of the energy and water ministry, according to two State Department reports written at the time by U.S. Embassy officials in Kabul. The reports were disclosed last month by WikiLeaks.

A Dec. 19, 2009, memo distributed internally under Eikenberry's name described Khan as "the worst of Karzai's choices" for cabinet members. "This former warlord is known for his corruption and ineffectiveness at the energy ministry," the memo said.

Asked earlier in 2010 about the corruption allegations, Khan, in an AP interview, did not respond directly to a question asking whether he was profiting from the ministry. He denied any widespread problems of corruption or mismanagement.

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