EU officials question Afghan gov't competence

AP News
Posted: Nov 16, 2009 12:59 PM

European Union officials questioned Monday whether Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government can face up to the country's challenges but did not echo a U.S. pledge to withhold civilian aid without more accountability.

Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he found British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's prediction that 5,000 more allied troops would be needed in Afghanistan "realistic," but said it was premature to make a final assessments.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday that the U.S. would not provide any civilian help to Afghanistan without a way to hold ministries accountable for how funds are used.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Monday it was "fundamental" for Afghanistan to have a government free of corruption and prepared to take on drug running and other problems the country faces. Solana would not comment on Clinton's threat, and it was not clear whether EU would adopt a similar position vis-a-vis Afghan leadership.

European nations, which provide about 30,000 troops to the NATO-led force in Afghanistan and are a major aid contributing partner, are waiting for President Barack Obama's strategic review of the war before deciding on specific collaboration and possible troop contributions.

"The European Union is engaged in Afghanistan and we will continue to be engaged," said EU spokeswoman Cristina Gallach.

"We need to hear from Karzai that he is putting together a government that faces the challenges that Afghanistan has before it," Gallach said.

Kai Eide, the top U.N. official in Kabul, will also brief Monday the rare joint meeting of EU's defense and foreign ministers, which will assess the progress Karzai is making on forming a new government after his tainted re-election, Gallach said.

No decisions on Afghanistan are expected at the two-day meeting, Gallach said.

Fogh Rasmussen, who also attended the talks, said "very important decisions" would be made in the next few weeks.