Georgia lawmakers urge end to Afghan government corruption

WASHINGTON — While most members of Georgia's congressional delegation are prepared to conditionally support the Obama administration's plan to send more troops to Afghanistan, the lawmakers stress efforts in that country must include consistent pressure to root out corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government — including cracking down on his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a suspected opium kingpin who operates in the country's southern Taliban stronghold.

"I've raised this with President Karzai and asked him why he didn't prosecute and he said if you bring me proof that my brother is involved I will prosecute him. There's too much in the way of actual conversation to not think Karzai's brother is involved," said Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who sits on the Senate Armed Services committee and led a Georgia delegation to Afghanistan last week that included Rep. John Barrow, D-Savannah, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Sharpsburg, and Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell.

During his address at the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. , Obama announced plans to send roughly 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan by next summer, speeding up its original plan to have the troops in by the end of next year. The president also said the United States will put tougher demands on Afghan President Karzai to root out the rampant corruption plaguing his government.

"One of the reasons the president makes reference to working with the central government and tribal leaders is because of concerns that the central government lacks credibility because of corruption," said Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Macon, who sits on the House Armed Services committee and attended the speech at West Point on Tuesday night. "Frustration arises because of trying to get the government to address corruption within its own ranks. The key to successful counterinsurgency lies with populations' willingness to assist allied forces."

Such efforts are needed to ensure support from both the American and Afghan people as well as from other nations whose commitment will be needed to sustain gains, said Rep. David, Scott, D-Jonesboro. "I think that's very critical no matter what we do no matter how many troops we send if there's not a functioning government to hand the ball off to then what's the point. It speaks to a fundamental and serious point in strategy," said Scott, who is a member of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and is slated to question Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen during a House Foreign Affairs committee hearing on Afghanistan policy on Wednesday. Chambliss, who is a longtime friend of Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, will have an opportunity to press the Obama administration on its strategy in that country during Wednesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Meanwhile, Obama has a huge political struggle ahead as a wary, divided Congress considers his new Afghanistan policy, as lawmakers Tuesday raised serious questions about the strategy, the timetables and his plans to pay for the buildup. Obama has to sell House and Senate members not only on the strategy but also on a method of payment.

His biggest sales job will involve Democrats, who control 60 of the Senate's 100 seats and 258 of the House's 435 seats. While some Democrats such as Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany, believe accelerate the handing over of security responsibilities to the Afghan forces will allow the United States to begin to transfer troops out of Afghanistan in 2011, others question the feasibility of such a timeline. "If history is any measure, something as challenging as Afghanistan doesn't get fixed in that short a timeframe," Marshall said. "We need to hear more information to get a handle on how realistic it would be to withdraw by 2011."

Many Republican lawmakers balk at the idea of setting timetables for de-escalation.

"I am extremely concerned by the President's proposal to set an arbitrary timeline for withdrawal because I think that sends the exact wrong signal to the enemy," said Sen. Johnny Isakson. "We should pursue this mission to a successful conclusion and then bring our troops home."

Republicans also want to slash spending; Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., proposes cutting sharp increases in 2010 discretionary spending, or government programs not subject to automatic increases. He says his plan would free $60 billion, well above the estimated $40 billion cost of Obama's plan.

But a proposal to pay for the Afghan surge with a surtax is gaining popularity in the House of Representatives, particularly among House Democratic leaders.

"I've always felt we haven't had the shared responsibilities. The military families have paid an awesome price. But we've not had to pay for Iraq, we did it under the Bush administration on borrowed dollars," said Scott, a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog coalition. "We have to find somewhere where there is some shared sacrifice." Nancy Youssef, William Douglas and David Lightman of McClatchy Newspapers contributed to this report.