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Afghanistan reacts mildly to scathing criticisms revealed by WikiLeaks

In diplomatic cables, President Hamid Karzai is called weak and paranoid, and his half-brother, a key government figure, is referred to as a corrupt drug dealer. But a spokesman for the president says 'there is not much in the documents that surprises us.'

November 29, 2010|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — The Afghan government said Monday that the publication of secret diplomatic cables that disparaged President Hamid Karzai and his half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai was "unfortunate" but that it did not expect relations with Washington to be affected.

The muted reaction might have been due to the fact that U.S. criticisms of the Afghan president's leadership, and officials' depictions of Ahmed Wali Karzai as extremely corrupt, already had been widely reported.

The younger Karzai is the chairman of Kandahar's provincial council and is considered the main powerbroker in the key southern province.

U.S. concerns about corruption in the Karzai government also have been aired extensively. But news organizations given access to the leaked documents reported a particularly eye-catching instance: an allegation that former Vice President Ahmad Zia Massoud was discovered at one point to have been carrying $52 million in cash in the United Arab Emirates. Massoud denied that such an incident had taken place.

Waheed Omer, a spokesman for President Karzai, said the presidential palace was studying the cables released so far but said there appeared to be little that was new.

"There is not much in the documents that surprises us, and we don't see anything substantive that will strain the relationship," he told reporters. He said Karzai would "carry on with what he thinks is good for Afghanistan."

Some of the criticism, however, was scathing. Britain's Guardian newspaper, one of five news organizations given access to the trove, said the Afghan leader was described in the cables as "extremely weak" and "driven by paranoia."

It was not the first time that such unflattering assessments of Karzai by U.S. officials had been made public. Late last year, a pair of leaked cables written by Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, argued against a steep buildup of U.S. forces because the Afghan president was not "an adequate strategic partner."

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul condemned the actions of the website WikiLeaks, which obtained and disseminated the cables.

"We deeply regret the disclosure of information that was intended to be confidential," the embassy said in a statement, adding that "diplomatic personnel's internal reports do not represent a government's final determination of policy."

Cables posted on the WikiLeaks website recount meetings in the fall of 2009 and in February of this year between American officials and Ahmed Wali Karzai. A blunt note contained in one of them warned that "while we must deal with AWK as the head of the provincial council, he is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker." It added that Karzai was not aware of the extent to which his illicit dealings were known to U.S. officials.

Brig. Gen. Josef Blotz, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, told reporters that the Western military would not be commenting on the content of the diplomatic cables "because it does not have anything to do with ISAF."

The Guardian reported, however, that the cables contained "devastating criticism of [British] military operations in Afghanistan" voiced by U.S. commanders and local officials in Helmand province. The newspaper said the British performance in the dangerous district of Sangin, which accounted for about one-third of Britain's total war dead, was described with "particular contempt."

U.S. Marines recently took over operations in Sangin and have been suffering heavy casualties there.

laura.king@latimes.com

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