Afghans should lead corruption fight: Gates

The US will keep backing investigations into cronyism and illicit activities.

Kabul: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday that while the fight against corruption must be led by Afghans, the US is working on new ways to prevent millions of American dollars flowing into the nation from underwriting bribery and graft.

Gates spoke to reporters in the Afghan capital with President Hamid Karzai, who complained about the tactics of two Western-backed anti-corruption units that recently arrested one of his top aides on suspicion of bribery, likening them to heavy-handed Soviet tactics.

The US views the arrest of Mohammed Zia Salehi as a test of Karzai`s willingness to take on graft in his government.

Salehi was arrested by Afghan police after allegedly being wiretapped discussing a bribe. He called Karzai from his jail cell in July and was freed hours later.

Soon afterward, Karzai blasted the work of the US-backed corruption investigators involved in that case and review how they operate.

"The key here is that the fight against corruption needs to be Afghan-led," Gates said. "This is a sovereign country."

Gates said two units, the Major Crimes Task Force and the Sensitive Investigative Unit, should operate under Afghan law. But he was clear that the US will keep backing investigations into cronyism and illicit activities.

Gates said US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General David Petraeus, the top commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, were developing new guidelines for how US funds are handed out for development and other projects.

Karzai pledged to work against corruption, which is undermining trust in his government and making it difficult to maintain international support for the war.

Gates also said that if Taliban insurgents believe American forces will walk out of Afghanistan next July, they will be disappointed. Gates says US forces will remain after the July 2011 date that President Barack Obama has set for the beginning of a pullout, if security permits.

American public opinion is turning strongly against the war with the majority of Americans now saying they doubt it is worth fighting.

PTI

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