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Afghanistan Pushed to Confront Corruption

March 30, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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President Obama addressed political corruption in Afghanistan during a surprise visit to Kabul this week. Judy Woodruff reports on U.S. pressures to officials to enforce fair governance.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next tonight: The Obama administration takes on the issue of corruption in Afghanistan.

With the health care battle behind him, President Obama moved this week to refocus attention on Afghanistan. On Sunday, he made his first trip there as commander in chief. He walked shoulder to shoulder with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at a welcome ceremony and spoke of progress.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The American people send greetings and are encouraged by the progress that’s been made.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But top White House aides said the message in private was that Karzai must do more to address corruption plaguing Afghanistan at all levels.

The U.S. national security adviser, retired Marine General Jim Jones, said Karzai “needs to be seized with how important that is.”

This morning, Mr. Obama went public with his assessment of the Afghan leader on NBC’s “Today Show.”

BARACK OBAMA: The progress is too slow. And what we’ve been trying to emphasize is the fierce urgency of now. We have to make progress faster, and we can’t dillydally around.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Karzai had promised reform last fall, after his own reelection bid was marred by alleged fraud.

HAMID KARZAI, president of Afghanistan (through translator): Corruption is a very dangerous problem for us. We want to seriously follow this issue.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But, this month, Karzai angered Washington by essentially gutting an independent panel that investigated the election fraud.

Today’s New York Times reported the U.S. then revoked an invitation to visit Washington. And Karzai struck back by inviting Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Kabul, where he gave an anti-American speech.

But, in Afghanistan today, the procession of high-level U.S. visitors continued. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral Mike Mullen, toured Marjah, where U.S. and Afghan forces recently routed the Taliban.

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN, joints chiefs chairman: What I wanted to see, more than anything else, was not just better security, but what are we putting in place for the people? How are we going to make the people’s lives better? How is the connection between the provincial governor, the local leaders, as well as Kabul?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mullen got an earful at a tribal meeting about a lack of schools, hospitals, paved roads, and fertilizer for farming. And a United Nations report today accused Afghan officials of advancing their own interests, at the expense of Afghanistan’s 28 million people.