Afghanistan Politics & the Strategic Review

Fraud allegations against Afghan President Hamid Karzai are complicating and delaying President Obama's review of US strategy in that country. The head of Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission, Kai Eide, said Monday "there was widespread fraud," in the August election though he couldn't quantify it, adding "any specific figure at this time would be pure speculation."

Mr. Obama is holding off a final decision on U.S. strategy until the election results are final, which isn't likely to happen for a couple of weeks or more. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says if Karzai hangs onto his office he'll have to build a 'new relationship' with foreign governments, but the White House hasn't concluded he stole the election.

President Obama has a fifth, and possibly final, Afghanistan strategy meeting on Wednesday. That may be the last group session before he decides on a request for as many as 40 thousand additional troops made by the U.S. Commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal.

Administration officials had hoped a more credible Afghan government with stronger support from the people could allow a smaller U.S. military footprint than otherwise. Now they're worried that an increase in troops might look like the U.S. is once again propping up a corrupt government.

Over the weekend, Democrats weighed in for and against the additional troops. California Senator Diane Feinstein said it makes no sense not to take General McChrystal's recommendations, "if you're not going to pull out." Michigan Senator Carl Levin said the answer is to, " focus on the Afghan forces, the army; faster, larger, better equipped."

The Afghan election commission suffered another shakeup, Monday, when one of two Afghan members quit, charging there was too much international interference in the recount process. Ironically the official left his post the day the Commission changed how it calculates potential fraudulent votes in a way that benefits President Hamid Karzai, who has been accused of stuffing the ballot box. Under the original rules it would have taken half a million vote changes to force Karzai into a runoff. Under the new rules it would take about twice as many.

Last month an American on the commission, Peter Galbraith, was fired for saying Eide, the head of the commission was protecting Karzai in the recount. About a quarter of the ballots cast in the August election are being studied.

Meanwhile, with a brother said to be a drug kingpin in addition to Karzai's own corruption problems, some experts say more troops may not be the most important part of a successful strategy against the Taliban. Rick Nelson, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says with Karzai accused of stuffing the ballot box and the Afghan leader's brother said to be a drug kingpin, the answer is, "going to have to come from within. It's something that additional troops certainly isn't going to solve."