by RAY FLEMING

IT is hard to judge why the intervention by the US Ambassador to Afghanistan in the White House's deliberations on future strategy there should have come at such a late moment. After weeks of analysis and discussion (aka “dithering”) Karl Eikenberry has only just put in writing to the President his view that the large increase in US forces sought by General McChrystal would not be a good idea in the present “unstable political situation”.

Ambassador Eikenberry's views will carry considerable weight; not only is he the diplomatic man on the spot but he was also military commander in Afghanistan until two years ago. It is said that he and General McChrystal did not always see eye-to-eye in the past and, apparently, that remains the situation. Mr Eikenberry, with Senator John Kerry, were at the forefront of efforts to persuade President Karsai to agree to a run-off in the recent election because of extensive fraud.

During those negotiations he was probably able to form an opinion about Hamid Karsai's reliability. The Ambassador's opinions were leaked to several American newspapers this week, just as General McChrystal's arguments in favour of a 40'000 troop surge were widely circulated some weeks ago. The Ambassador believes that sending a large additional number of troops would work against the key objective of increasing the numbers and calibre of the Afghanistan army. President Obama is now on the road in Asia and it is unlikely that his final decision will be taken until the 19th or 20th of this month.

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