Corruption, border issues stymie US efforts in Afghanistan, officials say

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Defense Department official told reporters that progress was being made in flushing out corrupt elements from the burgeoning Afghan government.

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"But we would say [progress] was limited," the defense official said during Tuesday's briefing at the Pentagon.

Maj. Gen. John Toolan, head of the Marine Corps 2nd Division, claimed corruption within Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s administration has now surpassed the insurgency as the main threat to the U.S. mission.

"The threat that's probably most challenging is the corruption and the threat of corruption that can occur in Afghanistan," Toolan told reporters on April 26.

To that end, DOD and State Department officials were forced to shut down an Afghan-led anti-corruption working group last year, a State Department official said at the same Monday briefing. 

The group was tasked with reviewing pending corruption cases and drafting recommendations to prevent such activities from continuing. 

However, group members "learned new ways" to defraud the Afghan government, based on their reviews, the official explained. 

What had been intended to curb rampant corruption inside Afghan government ministries ended up "teaching [officials] how to be corrupt," the official said. 

Monday's briefing came the same day the Pentagon released its newest security and stability assessment of the country. The assessment was based on information gleaned from ongoing U.S. and coalition operations over the past six months. 

While violence increased slightly in the eastern part of the country at the beginning of the six-month period, it has since subsided, according to the report. 

Violence levels also dropped in the southern Afghanistan, which is where the majority of the surge troops sent in by President Obama in 2009 are stationed. 

Many of those soldiers are scheduled to come home this summer as part of the White House's plan to have all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by 2014. 

The slight uptick in violence in eastern Afghanistan was located in the regions bordering Pakistan, according to the report. 

Quelling Taliban forces in eastern Afghanistan is the main objective for U.S. and coalition forces during this summer's fighting season. 

That said, the country's shared border with Pakistan is also "still assumed as a risk" to U.S. and coalition forces, the defense official said. 

Taliban forces continue to hop back and forth across the porous Afghanistan-Pakistan border to stage attacks against Afghan and coalition forces, fleeing back to their sanctuaries in Pakistan afterward, the defense official said.

These risks remain in spite of increased levels of cooperation between DOD and the Pakistani military. However, those relations have cooled significantly in the past week after Sunday's U.S.-led air strike against terror targets inside Pakistan. 

The strike by a U.S. drone targeted the city of Miranshah in the North Waziristan province of Pakistan, according to reports in the Pakistani press. 

The city has been used by the Taliban to launch cross-border attacks against U.S. and coalition positions along the border. The air strike, which reportedly hit an abandoned school, killed three people, according to reports. 

That said, the defense official said American military leaders continue to work with their counterparts in Afghanistan and Pakistan to increase security along the border. 

When pressed on whether it was even possible to shut the border down completely to Taliban forces, the defense official replied: "We are going to continue to push [for] it."