WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- The United States wants Afghan President Hamid Karzai to arrest and prosecute corrupt government officials among other concrete measures to shore up his legitimacy, a top U.S. military official has said, suggesting such steps were key to a troop increase.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Washington was "extremely concerned" about current levels of corruption in Afghanistan. The reelected president's legitimacy among the Afghan people was "at best, in question right now and, at worst, doesn't exist."
A legitimate government in Kabul, he said, was critical to a counterinsurgency strategy, which hinges on winning Afghan public support for Karzai's rule rather than the Taliban.
"He's got to take concrete steps to eliminate corruption," Mullen said of Karzai. "That means that you have to rid yourself of those who are corrupt, you have to actually arrest and prosecute them. You have to show those visible signs.
"If we don't get a level of legitimacy and governance, then all the troops in the world aren't going to make any difference," he told a conference in Washington.
After weeks of review, President Barack Obama's advisers appear to be moving toward a hybrid war strategy combining counterinsurgency with counterterrorism in Afghanistan that would entail a troop increase next year.
The biggest question, officials said, is how many more troops and trainers Obama will decide to deploy.
The leading options would add at least 10,000 to 15,000 troops and perhaps as many as 40,000, officials said. Currently, there are about 67,000 U.S. troops and 42,000 allied forces in Afghanistan.
Mullen said it was unrealistic to expect Afghanistan to ever develop a strong centralized government in Kabul. But he said among the Afghan public, "there's huge frustration" with the level of corruption.
The United States and its allies want Karzai to establish an anticorruption commission to investigate top officials as part of a pact in which he would also give greater authority to local and provincial leaders in choosing and overseeing projects in their areas. Karzai has up to now opposed granting such local autonomy.
Another provision of the proposed pact calls for Karzai to make merit-based appointments in key ministries and not to reward cronies who had supported him in the election.