GOP lawmaker says Karzai denied him entry into Afghanistan

A House Republican who has been highly critical of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was denied entry into Afghanistan during a congressional trip there this weekend.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, was not allowed to fly to Afghanistan with a congressional delegation headed by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).

Rohrabacher stayed behind in Dubai after he received a call from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking him not to go to Afghanistan, Rohrabacher said Monday.

“He apparently screamed and yelled at our State Department to try to get them from preventing me from getting in the country,” Rohrabacher said in a phone interview with The Hill.

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“I ended up being called by Secretary Clinton, telling me that my presence might create a mini crisis of some kind and might dramatically interfere with some things she’s trying to do at this moment,” he said.

The incident has the potential to disrupt U.S.-Afghanistan relations further, which have already been strained by several recent setbacks in Afghanistan.

After the latest, when photos emerged of U.S. soldiers posing with the body parts of suicide bombers last week, Karzai called for a quicker withdrawal of NATO troops. He made a similar demand after a rogue U.S. soldier killed 17 Afghan civilians last month.

At the same time, the United States has long been negotiating a strategic partnership agreement with the Afghans, which would establish a U.S. presence in the country after 2014, when NATO is set to hand security control to the Afghans. They reached an agreement on the deal Sunday.

Rohrabacher has been severely critical of the Afghanistan government, accusing Karzai of corruption and suggesting significant structural reforms are needed to his government. He was one of several members of Congress who met with leaders of the Northern Alliance and other groups in Berlin that want a more decentralized governing system.

“Mr. Karzai is mad as hell that anybody is trying to suggest the current structure he dominates is inconsistent with Afghan culture and tradition and that his administration has certain a certain lack of integrity,” Rohrabacher said.

Pentagon spokesman Capt. John Kirby told reporters Monday that the denial was an “isolated incident” that involved a single congressman, and it did not represent a larger problem with congressional delegations traveling to Afghanistan.

He said the Pentagon “did not take a position on the incident.”

Rohrabacher said that Gohmert asked him to join the congressional trip at the last minute after another member dropped out. Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), John Carter (R-Texas), Michael Burgess (R-Texas) and Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) were also on the trip, according to Rohrabacher’s spokeswoman.

The delegation traveled to Dubai, where they were set to fly to Afghanistan on a military plane. But Rohrabacher said he was told the military plane could not take off with him on it.

He briefly considered flying to Afghanistan commercially, but decided against it after the call from Clinton, Rohrabacher said. The rest of the delegation traveled without incident to Afghanistan.

“I think that in this situation it’s very clear that I’m actually being effective when I start getting corrupted leaders like Karzai mad at me,” Rohrabacher said.

A spokesman for the Afghan embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

— Carlo Munoz contributed to this report.