Karzai's power is waning, report says

HERAT, Afghanistan — HERAT, Afghanistan -- A recent CIA assessment found that the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, had been significantly weakened by rising popular frustration with his U.S.-backed government, American officials say.

The assessment found that Karzai's government and security forces continued to struggle to exert authority beyond Kabul, said a senior U.S. official who spoke only on the condition of anonymity. The assessment also found that increasing numbers of Afghans viewed Karzai's government as corrupt, failing to deliver promised reconstruction and too weak to protect the country from rising Taliban attacks.


"The ability to project out into the countryside, perceptions of corruption in the government," said the official, listing Afghan complaints. "The failure to deliver the services."

The assessment, which was conducted before Karzai's visit to Washington in late September, echoes the frustration that has gathered force in Afghanistan since the spring, and U.S. officials in Washington and Kabul are expressing increasingly dire warnings regarding the situation here. Ronald E. Neumann, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, said in a recent interview that the United States faced "stark choices" in Afghanistan. Averting failure, he said, would take "multiple years" and "multiple billions."


"We're going to have to stay at it," Neumann said. "Or we're going to fail, and the country will fall apart again."

Officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government's main development arm, said they were rushing $14 million in assistance to southern Afghanistan, where a recent NATO offensive routed the Taliban, but where suicide bombings continue to damage public confidence.

In addition to the CIA assessment, the National Security Council began a classified, interagency review of U.S. training and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan this summer after violence reached a new level.

While that review has not been completed, officials said it is expected to include a request for additional financing.

Gordon D. Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council, said the interagency review covered anti-Taliban and counter-narcotics activities as well as efforts to counter extremism and to integrate the central government with local and provincial governments.

"We are proud of the progress that has been made in the last five years but know there is more to do," he said. "The United States is committed to the people of Afghanistan for the long term."

Neumman, who has been the ambassador here for just over a year, laid out a full menu of tasks that he said the U.S.-led effort needed to accomplish in Afghanistan, including reviving the country's economy, building roads and power plants and improving security. He said plans drafted in 2002 to train Afghanistan's army and its police force needed to be revamped and expanded.

Neumann, a decorated Vietnam veteran whose father served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan from 1966 to 1973, said the country's security forces had to be better supplied. Training the police represents an even larger challenge than strengthening the army, Neumann said. "The police needs a whole huge, major effort," he said. "That wasn't what the program was designed to do when we were at peace."