U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the United States will begin to tighten control of its Afghan aid contracts in an effort to reduce rampant corruption in the war-torn nation.
In remarks before the start of an international defense summit in Halifax, Canada Friday, Gates acknowledged that the multinational presence in Afghanistan has provided "a significant influx" of dollars through development contracts.
He said the place the United States can exert the greatest leverage in Afghanistan's anti-corruption effort is "where we're writing the checks."
Gates's comments, at a joint press conference with Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay, follow Thursday's inauguration of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who now faces intense pressure to stem corruption in his country.
The U.S. defense secretary also said the exact timing of an eventual U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan will depend largely on "conditions on the ground."
Standing next to Gates, the Canadian defense minister restated his country's plans to withdraw its 2,800 soldiers from southern Afghanistan by 2011. The Netherlands is set to pull out its forces in 2010.
Gates said the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has factored both withdrawals into his war planning. The U.S. defense secretary added that the Afghan war effort will require more commitment and more sacrifice from U.S. allies.
The French news agency, AFP, reported Friday that U.S. President Barack Obama will wait until after the November 26 Thanksgiving holiday to announce whether he will send additional forces to Afghanistan. General McChrystal has reportedly asked for up to 40,000 troops.
U.S. Senator John McCain, who is also attending the Halifax Security Forum, predicted success in the Afghan war effort within "a year to 18 months" if sufficient reinforcements are sent.
The Arizona senator said Friday the Obama Administration's delay in reaching a decision on Afghan strategy is creating uncertainty within the military and ambivalence among U.S. allies about the mission.
But the leader of the U.S. House of Representative, Nancy Pelosi, (Friday) called Afghan President Karzai an "unworthy partner" who does not deserve a large boost in either U.S. troops or civilian aid.
Pelosi and others in the Democratic Party opposed a similar surge in U.S. troops to Iraq two years ago, arguing then that more attention was needed in Afghanistan as the main front against al-Qaida.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.