Larsen critical of Karzai after visit to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., just back from Afghanistan, criticized Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday for failing to stem corruption infesting his country’s government.

Larsen also said Karzai must do more to ensure that Afghanistan does not become a haven for al-Qaida as the United States prepares to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next July.

Larsen, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, was one of four U.S. congressmen who met with Karzai last week in Kabul. Larsen said he entered the meeting frustrated at the lack of progress in Afghanistan and left the hour-long session “disturbed.”

Larsen said he was especially annoyed that Karzai appeared to blame everyone but himself for his country’s problems.

“Nothing is Hamid Karzai’s fault,” he said in summing up Karzai’s view.

Still, Larsen said he agrees with Karzai that a key problem facing Afghanistan is the haven being provided for the opposition Taliban in neighboring Pakistan.

But Larsen said the United States is doing what it can to contain the Taliban in Pakistan, while recognizing that Pakistan is a U.S. ally. U.S. troops are helping train the Pakistani military and are helping with counterinsurgency and anti-terrorism programs in Pakistan, he said.

Larsen and Reps. Brian Baird, D-Wash., Bob Inglis, R-S.C., and Bill Shuster, R-Pa., also met with Gen. David Petraeus, U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and other American leaders during their two-day visit to Afghanistan.

While saying that eliminating corruption is impossible, Larsen said Karzai should speak out against it and do what he can to minimize it. “I think the patience of the American people is almost done,” he said.

Larsen also said that President Barack Obama deserves credit for troop withdrawals in Iraq and for his commitment to a similar reduction in Afghanistan. Obama’s actions should “hasten the day when the U.S. military can come home, because we’re going to be reasonably assured that Afghanistan will not be a safe haven for al-Qaida or any other terrorist organization,” he said.

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