Obama tackles corruption in surprise Afghan visit
Published 29/03/2010 | 05:00
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama arrived unannounced in Afghanistan last night in his first visit to the war zone since he entered the White House.
Mr Obama urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai to tackle the widespread corruption in his government and invited him to visit Washington on May 12.
Air Force One landed in Bagram airfield north of Kabul after dark, before a helicopter took Mr Obama to Mr Karzai's presidential palace.
Mr Obama, who aides said was at Camp David when in fact he was making the nearly 13-hour flight to Kabul, was firstly to be briefed by General Stanley McChrystal and deliver a speech to American troops.
General Jim Jones, Mr Obama's national security adviser, said the US president told Mr Karzai that he had to "battle the things that have not been paid attention to almost since day one".
The Afghan president should be establishing "a merit-based system" for appointment of key government officials, battling corruption and taking the fight to drug-traffickers who "fuel the economic engine for the insurgents", he said.
In December, Mr Obama ordered the deployment of an extra 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan and set a mid-2011 target to begin withdrawal. About a third have so far arrived, taking part in a major offensive in the south last month.
Mr Karzai had earlier been accused by international officials of failing to keep his election promise of ending ministerial corruption, after it was claimed that his office blocked the arrest of the first high-profile target of the Afghan government's promised purge.
Sediq Chakari, the former minister of Hajj who is thought to be in Britain, has been under investigation into his alleged involvement in a bribery racket that made hundreds of thousands of pounds from poor pilgrims.
Mr Karzai's palace allegedly vetoed his arrest because of his close links to former warlords within the government.
Two of Mr Chakari's staff were arrested last year allegedly carrying about €290,000 from Saudi Arabia, where they were sent to lease accommodation for Afghan pilgrims. Prosecutors believe officials were demanding up to €110 per pilgrim from hoteliers and transport firms with contracts to take pilgrims to Mecca.
Mr Chakari, a British passport holder, strongly denied involvement when the allegations arose. His disappearance is seen as a blow to international efforts to curb corruption, which is blamed for undermining development in Afghanistan and driving resentful Afghans into the Taliban insurgency. (© Daily Telegraph, London)