Corker: Iraq diverting focus from Afghanistan mission

Hank Hayes • Dec 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM

American military focus on securing Iraq is shortchanging similar U.S. troop efforts in Afghanistan, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday.

“There is no doubt that our efforts in Iraq are taking away from our efforts in Afghanistan,” the Tennessee Republican said. “I am not saying that we should not be doing the things we need to be doing in Iraq right now to create security. ... The country is more secure. On the other hand, there is no question those efforts are keeping us from manning Afghanistan in a way that would be best.”

Corker, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, recently returned from an eight-day tour with a congressional delegation meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. troops, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, and former Pakistani Prime Minister and Pakistan People’s Party Chair Benazir Bhutto.

This was the first U.S. delegation to meet with Musharraf since he officially stepped down as chief of the army and was sworn in as a civilian president last week. The meeting with Bhutto was her first with a U.S. congressional delegation since returning to Pakistan from self-imposed exile in October.

Karzai, Corker reported, said Afghanistan’s three biggest threats are U.S. and NATO forces leaving too soon, external threats from other countries, and “the culture of impunity that exists” inside Afghanistan.

“We still have not done enough as it relates to warlords, to narcotics and the whole general issue of corruption inside the country,” Corker said.

Iran’s influence in Afghanistan also hasn’t helped, said Corker.

“They have efforts there to help destabilize what we’re doing,” Corker said of Iran. “I don’t think they want the country itself destabilized in total. I think that’s something that’s not in their interests. But I think giving us a bloody nose as we continue to move forward in Afghanistan certainly is part of what they are attempting to do.”

Corker said Afghan police forces need more training, and the country’s agriculture economy also needs more help.

“One gentleman made the comment that there were more USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) people in one county of southern Indiana than in all of Afghanistan,” Corker pointed out.

In Pakistan, Corker said Bhutto “sees herself as the next prime minister” after January elections, but he warned the elections won’t be perfect.

“She said there are two fault lines (in Pakistan) — between dictatorship and democracy, and between moderates and extremists,” Corker said of Bhutto. “She is concerned about the fairness of elections. ... She is concerned about terrorism being bred inside the country.”

But Corker said the subject of nabbing 9/11 architect Osama bin Laden, who is often reported by news organizations to be hiding in Pakistan, didn’t come up during discussions with Bhutto or Musharraf.

“That was not a topic that was brought up by either leader, although I think that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of concern about that,” Corker said. “I think that everybody knows that behind (Osama bin Laden) there are many others. (Pakistan officials) are dealing more with the actual terrorist leaders on the ground who are training suicide bombers and others. ... I do sense a strong desire in both countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan) to do away with terrorism.”

On the talks with Musharraf, Corker said the delegation viewed Musharraf’s transition from a military to political leader as a good thing.

“We kidded him about how good his suit looked,” Corker said of Musharraf.

Corker was also asked for his reaction to a new U.S. intelligence review concluding that Iran stopped developing an atomic weapons program in 2003.

“I am very pleased ... (but) I still am suspect of anything we get from our intelligence community,” Corker responded. “I hate to say that, but I am. ... I think every American hopes that (the review) is true.”

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