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US withholds $4 billion in Afghanistan war aid. Can Gen. Petraeus cope?

Gen. David Petraeus's strategy in the Afghanistan war relies on money for reconstruction and development. But Congress says it will withhold $4 billion in Afghan aid unless rampant corruption is stopped.

Newly appointed U.S. and NATO forces commander in Afghanistan U.S. Army General David Petraeus speaks during a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Thursday.

Virginia Mayo/AP Photo

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General David Petraeus is about to take over the war in Afghanistan at a time when a weapon that the military views as crucial to success is being taken out of his hands. The weapon? Money.

Yesterday, the House budget committee withheld $4 billion in Afghanistan aid from the next budget over allegations that Afghan officials and foreign contractors have been stealing much of the country’s aid.

General Petraeus briefed NATO allies in Brussels on Thursday before heading towards Afghanistan, and assured them that the current counterinsurgency strategy for the war – which blends offensive operations against the Taliban with quick development and governance improvements to convince Afghan citizen’s they’re better off without them – will remain on course.

But with Congress threatening to tighten the purse strings and angry responses from Afghan officials, who say that allegations the government of President Hamid Karzai is protecting its friends are false, a key portion of Petraeus's strategy could be undermined.

Over the past year, rumors of rampant corruption here have hardened into strong suspicions, with US officials both praising greater Afghan efforts to combat corruption and expressing frustration that investigations of politically-connected businessmen are being blocked by high officials.

“It’s clear that a lot of money is being stolen by people close to the government,” says a Western diplomat here who asked not to be named. “But how high it goes is difficult to prove.”


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