US Afghan mission 'not open-ended'

The US commitment to Afghanistan is "not open-ended", the White House has said, warning that the administration in Kabul must take steps to improve the way the country is run.Rata Penuh

The comments on Wednesday came after Barack Obama, the US president, held his eighth meeting with his war cabinet as he deliberates changes to the US strategy in Afghanistan.

"The president believes that we need to make clear to the Afghan government that our commitment is not open-ended," a White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters outlining Wednesday's meeting.

"After years of substantial investments by the American people, governance in Afghanistan must improve in a reasonable period of time to ensure a successful transition to our Afghan partner," the official said, adding that Obama had yet to decide on proposals for increased troop deployments.

Wednesday's meeting reportedly focused on four possible options for a revised US strategy, and how long each would take to implement.

The meeting comes some three months since the top US commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, requested thousands of additional troops.

Waning support

At the same time US public opinion is growing increasingly sceptical about the conduct and objectives of the eight-year-old war, with support waning as combat deaths hit record levels.

On Wednesday, a new opinion poll showed a growing number of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan is not going well and disapprove of Obama's handling of the situation.

The survey by the Pew Research Centre showed 57 per cent now say the military effort in Afghanistan is going either not too well or not well at all, up from 45 per cent in January.

Also on Wednesday, reports emerged in US media that the US ambassador to Afghanistan has expressed his own strong reservations over an increased troop deployment.

According to the New York Times and Washington Post, Karl Eikenberry, writing in classified cables to top US officials, expressed worries over the Afghan administration and its ability to tackle widespread corruption that has spurred the Taliban's revival.

In addition, Eikenberry was quoted as being concerned that additional troop deployments would only increase Afghanistan's reliance on US security forces, and he raised worries over the erratic behaviour of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president.

Eikenberry reportedly attended Wednesday's war cabinet meeting by video link from Kabul.

Peter Galbraith, a former UN diplomat in Afghanistan, said that he also believed it was wrong to send more troops following the controversial presidential election.

"It is a mistake. I don't think they can accomplish the mission that they are being given because they have no credible local partner to work with," he told Al Jazeera.

'Decision near'

McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, has said he needs upwards of 40,000 extra troops to avoid failure in the conflict, but it is not clear what level of deployment Obama favours.

Critics have accused the US president of dithering over the issue, but Obama has said he will not rush a decision to put more US personnel in harm's way.

Speaking ahead of the White House meeting General David Petraeus, commander of the US Central Command, told the CNN news channel that a decision on a revised US strategy was near after months of deliberation.

However, Obama leaves on Thursday for a nine-day tour of Asia and is not expected to announce a decision until after his return to Washington.

According to The New York Times, the four options under consideration include McChrystal's proposal, which would significantly ramp up the US presence in Afghanistan.

There are currently nearly 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan, along with 40,000 other allied forces.

The debate over the US commitment to Afghanistan comes against mounting concerns in Washington over the credibility of the government of Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, following the recent fraud-marred election.

Jonah Hull, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said: "The only sign of change that will come is the announcement of a cabinet formed by President Karzai.

"That is the only way anyone will be able to ascertain whether [Karzai] intends to make good on his word and put together an effective unity government aimed at things like corruption in goverment across all the institutions of this land, from the private sector, to the civil service, to the police force, and so on."

Rampant corruption has been seen as undermining allied efforts to stabilise Afghanistan, where a Taliban-driven insurgency has swelled over the past year. [adm/aljazeera]

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