KABUL — The embattled Afghan president pledged Sunday that there would be no place for corrupt officials in his new administration — a demand made by Washington and its international partners as they ponder sending more troops to confront the Taliban and shore up his government.
Also Sunday, NATO reported three more coalition soldiers — one American and two Britons — died in combat in the Taliban-infested areas of the west and south. The latest losses pushed Britain's combat death toll in the eight-year Afghan war to 201.
NATO forces said they were still searching for two American paratroopers who disappeared Wednesday while trying to recover airdropped supplies that had fallen into a river. Afghan police said the two Americans were swept away by the current and may have drowned.
With casualties mounting, corruption has become a frontburner issue in Afghanistan, with President Barack Obama and other world leaders under pressure from their own constituents to explain why they are sending young soldiers to fight and die in defense of a government riddled with graft, cronyism and fraud.
Obama is considering a request from the top U.S. and NATO commander to send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to curb the growing Taliban insurgency.
Hamid Karzai was proclaimed the winner last week in a fraud-marred presidential election after his only remaining challenger dropped out ahead of a runoff, saying he did not expect a fair vote.
With his reputation sullied by the messy election, Karzai gave assurances Sunday that he would rid his government of corrupt officials.
"Individuals who are involved in corruption will have no place in the government," Karzai said in an interview with the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service. The presidential press office released comments from the interview.
'There is no accountability'
Karzai also said donor countries share some of the responsibility for rampant corruption because of a poorly structured system to manage projects. The U.N. and some donor countries have also cited the need for a more efficient system to guarantee the money serves the Afghan people.
"There is no accountability of their contracts, and there is a serious corruption in the implementation of those projects. And the responsibility for this corruption is (with) the international community," Karzai said. "I am hopeful that by joint cooperation we will be able to overcome all these challenges."
Karzai said he was hoping to recruit people "that have the skills and talent, no matter what they are, man or woman."
His remarks were made one day after the Afghan Foreign Ministry accused foreign critics of using corruption allegations to influence the makeup of the new government.
"Such instructions have violated respect for Afghanistan's national sovereignty," the ministry said.
A NATO statement said the American service member was killed in an insurgent attack Saturday in western Afghanistan. The statement said the death was not part of the ongoing search operation for the two missing paratroopers but gave no further details.
Fierce fighting erupted during the search operation Friday, and NATO and Afghan forces are investigating whether a botched NATO airstrike was responsible for the death of seven Afghan soldiers and police and an Afghan interpreter during the rescue operation.
Seventeen Afghan troops, including soldiers and police, five American soldiers and another Afghan interpreter were wounded, NATO has said.
One British soldier was killed Saturday and another Sunday in explosions in the southern province of Helmand, the Defense Ministry announced. Britain is the largest contributor to NATO forces in Afghanistan after the United States with about 9,000 troops in the country and 500 more committed by the government last month.
The latest deaths brought the total number of British service members who have died in Afghanistan to 232 — including 201 due to hostile fire.
British public unconvinced
The head of Britain's armed forces, Air Chief Marshal Jock Stirrup, acknowledged Sunday that the British public is not convinced that the NATO coalition can succeed in Afghanistan.
In the east of the country, militants twice attacked a fuel supply convoy as it traveled along a main supply route between Pakistan and the Afghan capital of Kabul. Police said at least two private security guards and a policeman were wounded in the attacks.
The convoy first came under fire near the city of Jalalabad, during which two fuel tankers were set on fire and three other trucks were damaged, provincial police spokesman Ghafor Khan said. Two security guards were wounded.
Afghan police later joined the convoy to escort the remaining vehicles to Kabul. But the vehicles came under attack again in the neighboring province of Laghman, leaving one policeman wounded and damaging three other trucks, said deputy provincial police chief Naqibullah Hotak.
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