Senator Lindsey Graham, long a supporter of the U.S. role in Afghanistan, called for cutting off all U.S. development aid if President Hamid Karzai releases 65 prisoners the U.S. calls dangerous.
“President Karzai has basically sidestepped his own rule of law,” and the aid should be suspended until after Afghan elections scheduled for April to choose his successor, said Graham, a South Carolina Republican. He spoke at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where lawmakers of both parties expressed growing frustration at what Graham called Karzai’s increasingly “erratic behavior” and anti-American rhetoric.
Graham said Karzai may act within two days to free the prisoners from a detention center in Parwan province over the objections of U.S. and allied forces who say they’ve provided extensive evidence of the threats the prisoners pose, including the use of improvised explosive devices.
Their release “would be a major step backward for the rule of law in Afghanistan,” Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters today. “We believe these detainees should be tried for the crimes they have committed. There’s no question in our minds that they are dangerous men.”
Karzai also has balked at signing an agreement with the U.S. that would let a smaller American force remain after combat troops depart by the end of this year.
James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told the committee today that he thinks Karzai won’t sign the Bilateral Security Agreement, and committee Chairman Carl Levin proposed waiting for Karzai’s successor do so after the April elections.
Karzai “has made a series of statements so inflammatory that they are undermining public support in the United States for continuing efforts in Afghanistan,” said Levin, a Michigan Democrat.
The election, and the prospect that a runoff may be needed, could lead to months of uncertainty, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency told the committee at the hearing, called to discuss the annual assessment of global threats by U.S. intelligence agencies.
“The lack of a consensus candidate could lead to a potentially destabilizing runoff election that would occur during the peak” of the insurgent fighting season and the U.S.- led alliance’s drawdown, Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn said in prepared testimony.
Flynn also said that Afghan forces are struggling to increase their combat capability as the U.S. withdraws intelligence, reconnaissance and bomb-detection technologies.
Not Holding Territory
The 340,000 members of the Afghan National Army and police “have shown progress in their ability to clear insurgents from contested areas but have exhibited problems holding cleared areas long-term,” Flynn said.
His assessment is in sharp contrast to assurances by top U.S. commanders in the field that Afghan forces are increasingly ready to take over.
Afghan forces “struggle due to the lack of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” as well as expertise and technology for countering improvised roadside bombs, Flynn said. Senior Taliban leaders “likely believe that they only need to continue” their present level of attacks “to be postured for victory” following a withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops and technology, he said.
As of January 28, 2,306 Americans had been killed in Afghanistan since the U.S. invaded the country after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and 19,638 had been wounded. The Pentagon put its Afghan costs at $516.9 billion, according to the latest tally through Sept. 30.
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