The Afghan ambassador in Washington is disappointed that President Obama set an 18-month deadline to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from his country and insisted the Afghan army and police will need at least five more years before they can handle security.
Ambassador Said Jawad told the Voice of America that he understands the domestic and economic pressures that led Mr. Obama to announce the troops would begin leaving Afghanistan in July 2011.
However, he added, “as far as the Afghan people are concerned it probably would have been a better option” not to announce a withdrawal date.
“But one has to be realistic,” he said. “There is an economic crisis here in the U.S. The Iraq war [and] eight years of U.S. engagement in Afghanistan put a lot of pressure on President Obama to indicate how long this engagement will last in Afghanistan.”
On Tuesday Mr. Jawad sent a signal to the Obama administration before the president delivered his address at West Point, trying to counter criticism of his government and warning against time limits on withdrawing U.S. and allied troops.
“We are ready to take responsibility of our country’s security in five years,” he told the Atlantic Partnership in Washington. “Within the next three years, we want to lead and conduct military operations independently.”
He said Afghan forces are in charge in the capital, Kabul, and hope to control other regions on a “province-to-province basis.”
Mr. Jawad said Afghan forces are fighting alongside U.S. and other foreign troops.
“On average, three Afghan National Police officers are dying every day defending Afghanistan,” he said.
Mr. Jawad defended Afghan President Hamid Karzai against U.S. criticism of widespread corruption in his government.
“We heard very clearly your message about corruption and governance,” he said. “We know that our government institutions are not fully functional.”
However, he added, the government is cracking down on corruption with the arrest of more than 600 officials this year and with investigations against a dozen former and current government ministers.
“Fighting corruption cannot be accomplished by undermining the leadership of the country,” he said.
Mr. Jawad acknowledged that many Americans are growing disenchanted with the war in Afghanistan, which began with a U.S. invasion in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban, which sheltered Osama bin Laden and his terrorist al Qaeda network. However, Americans need to be reminded of the reasons they are in Afghanistan, he said.
“The mission is clear,” he said. “This is America’s war to destroy, disrupt and dismantle al Qaeda and NATO’s battle for regional and global security, as well as Afghanistan’s struggle for survival.”
The United States is expanding its diplomatic mission in Afghanistan to underscore its dedication to the nation, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry said this week.
“We have a long-term commitment to the government of Afghanistan. We have a long-term commitment to the people of Afghanistan,” he said at a ceremony in Kabul where he signed a lease on land for the first U.S. consulate in the country.
The consulate in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif will open next year, he said. The ambassador added that the United States has plans for another consulate, in the western city of Herat, near the border with Iran.
“The signing of this lease to establish our first consulate … with plans to establish one in Herat, that’s a sign of commitment,” he added.
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