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Cablegate: Afghanistan: Brown Urges Karzai to Keep Helmand

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OO RUEHPW
DE RUEHLO #2181/01 2351503
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
O 221503Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 9573
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JCS WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 1249
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 LONDON 002181

NOFORN
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR EUR/WE, SCA/A; NSC FOR BRADLEY

EO 12958 DECL: 08/22/2018
TAGS PREL, MARR, PTER, AF, UK
SUBJECT: AFGHANISTAN: BROWN URGES KARZAI TO KEEP HELMAND
GOVERNOR; PRAISES UNSYG REP

Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Greg Berry for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

1. (C/NF) During what was described by FCO Afghanistan Desk Officer Tom Burns as a mainly “morale boosting” trip to Afghanistan on August 21, Prime Minister Gordon Brown met with UK and Afghan military commanders and Governor Mangal in Helmand, and with President Karzai and UNSYG Special Representative Kai Eide in Kabul. Mangal confided to Brown, who was accompanied by Foreign Policy Advisor Simon McDonald, that he was worried about job security given that others close to Karzai, including former Helmand governor Sher Muhammed Akhunzada, were plotting against him and encouraging Karzai to replace him with Akhunzada. Burns said that in Kabul Brown took up Mangal’s cause, telling Karzai that Mangal enjoyed the UK’s confidence and that Akhunzada was not an acceptable alternative, given his history of corruption and involvement in drug trafficking. UK Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Cowles will continue to push Mangal’s case with Karzai.

2. (C/NF) Brown reportedly emphasized to Karzai that the security assessments he had received from British and Afghan commanders in Helmand were more positive in tone than those Karzai may have been receiving from his political advisors. The general view from the military in Helmand, Brown told Karzai, was that security overall in the province was improving, but that major roads were still very dangerous given the increase in insurgent use of IEDs and suicide bombers. Karzai and Brown spent a significant portion of their meeting talking about the situation in Pakistan and the September 6 presidential elections. Karzai is reportedly “warm” on PPP leader Zardari but encouraged the U.S. and UK to “open channels” to PML leader Nawaz Sharif. Karzai averred that given the increase in AQ training activity on the Pakistan side of the border, Pakistan is actually a more violent country than Afghanistan.

Meeting with UNSYG Representative Eide
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3. (C/NF) Brown spent an hour with UNSYG Special Representative Kai Eide, who expressed concern over slow progress on the security situation, which was impeding development, particularly in the south, and the lack of Afghan capacity to absorb what aid was getting through. He was also worried about diminishing support for Karzai in the government and population in general, and complained that Karzai was incapable of making the “tough decisions.” Eide suggested that he, Cowper-Cowles and Ambassador Wood work together to keep the pressure on Karzai. Eide also cautioned against working too closely and directly with tribal leaders, as this may undermine Karzai/central government authority and credibility. Brown praised the coordinating work Eide had undertaken thus far, and pledged continued UK support for his mission.

Cabinet Office Readout
----------------------

4. (C/NF) In a subsequent conversation with the Cabinet Office’s Afghan Officer Helen Evans, she echoed the FCO readout, but stressed that the Prime Minister’s statements while on the ground about the UK commitment to support ANA training were “a general statement of intent” not a specific pledge of additional UK military and financial resources at this time. Brown received a useful briefing from the AFSouth commander, who gave the PM a “half-glass full, half empty,” overview of the situation, according to Evans. The commander described how security is improving in the region overall, but the lack of security along transport routes makes it difficult to build on the security improvements. Brown also heard from several interlocutors that the road security situation could affect the ability to hold credible elections.

5. (C/NF) Brown’s traveling party was struck by UNSYG Eide’s downbeat assessment of the Afghan leadership, including Karzai, according to Evans. Eide raised whether the UK and U.S. Governments should be working to find a new chief of staff for Karzai, an issue that Brown later took up with the UK Embassy in Kabul. Eide also raised with Brown concerns about the humanitarian situation developing as a result of the current drought, which has affected nearly all of the country.
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