WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said on Thursday he spoke to President Barack Obama about his half-brother’s role in southern Afghanistan and that he believed the issue was now resolved.
U.S. officials have voiced concern over the activities of Ahmad Wali Karzai, a powerful official with broad business ties in Kandahar, the southern city where U.S. forces plan next to focus their efforts against Taliban militants.
As head of Kandahar’s provincial council, Karzai’s brother has been accused of amassing a fortune from the drugs trade, intimidating rivals and having links to the CIA -- charges he strongly denies and which the Afghan president says have never been proven.
Asked whether the issue of his brother came up during his meeting on Wednesday with Obama, Karzai said: “The president did not raise the issue of my brother in Kandahar. I raised it with him and to the satisfaction of both sides.”
“I am not going to go into further detail on that. The issue is resolved as it stands now,” Karzai added, speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace on the last day of his four-day trip to Washington.
U.S. officials see Ahmad Wali Karzai as a polarizing figure who could complicate their efforts to win over the population and supplant the Taliban by bringing improvements to the way the province is governed.
Karzai said it was not within his power to fire his brother.
“Even if I were to resort to an activity of firing or hiring, fortunately Afghanistan is a democratic country and one elected by the people cannot be fired by the president. They can fire me, I cannot fire them,” he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asked for her opinion on Karzai’s brother and whether he could jeopardize U.S.-led efforts in Kandahar, said she had nothing to add to the Afghan leader’s comments.
KARZAI PLAYS DOWN KANDAHAR
U.S. military commanders have been seeking to play down the upcoming offensive in Kandahar. Karzai said it should not be seen as a major military operation but rather as a “process.”
A military operation would indicate tanks rolling into Afghanistan’s second-largest city, which would not be the case, he said, adding there needed to be the full agreement of the community over how to stabilize the region.
“The effort in Kandahar and the surrounding area has to be explained better,” Karzai said.
Clinton also said major operations should not be expected in Kandahar, known as the spiritual home of the Taliban.
“Making it sound like it was going to be a massive military action -- sort of sieging the city, tanks rolling into the city -- that is not the kind of operation that our military leaders believe is warranted,” said Clinton,
The goal of the counterinsurgency plan, she said, was not to destroy Kandahar and fight the Afghan people but to “weed out” members of the Taliban who are disrupting daily life.
The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, told reporters at the Pentagon the outcome of Kandahar should be clear by the end of the year.
The test would be the views of Afghan residents.
“This is a very difficult challenge,” McChrystal said, adding the goal was to create security without lapsing into major fighting.
In an interview on PBS, McChrystal said progress has been made but much remains to be done to turn the tide in the war.
“I think I’d be prepared to say nobody is winning at this point. Where the insurgents, I think, felt that they had momentum a year ago, felt that they were making clear progress, I think that’s stopped,” McChrystal said.
Earlier on Thursday, Karzai visited Arlington military cemetery to pay respects to U.S. forces killed in the war. On Friday, he will stop by a U.S. military base before returning to Kabul.
The goal of the visit was to show unity in the nine-year war after weeks of bickering between the White House and Karzai following a string of anti-Western comments he made.
It was also aimed at showing Afghans the United States will be committed to Afghanistan long after U.S. troops start to withdraw from a target date of July 2011.
Karzai reiterated that Afghanistan hoped to be able to provide for its own security in parts of the country over the next two to three years and for that to be extended to the entire nation by 2014.
Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by John O’Callaghan
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