WASHINGTON, Nov. 4, 2009 – Newly re-elected Afghan President Hamid Karzai must take significant measures to cut government corruption and establish its legitimacy, the top U.S. military officer said today.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed concern about the government under Karzai, who was re-elected following a national election fraught with allegations of fraud.

“We are extremely concerned about the level of corruption and the legitimacy of this government,” Mullen said at the National Press Club today. “It’s far too much endemic.”

Karzai, who sealed a victory this week after his opponent dropped out of a runoff election, “has got to take significant steps to eliminate corruption,” Mullen said.

“That means that you have to rid yourself of those who are corrupt; you have to actually arrest and prosecute them,” he said. “You have to show those visible signs.”

The chairman added that “it will be evident pretty quickly” whether Karzai is serious about improving government legitimacy.

“You have to have governance, not just in Kabul, … but we also have to have it in provinces, in districts and the sub-districts,” Mullen said. “The legitimacy really needs to be in the eyes of the Afghan people. That is, at best, in question and, at worst, doesn’t exist.”

The critique of the Afghan government comes as President Barack Obama and his advisors debate the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, which includes weighing a request from the top U.S. commander there for additional troops. But Mullen said today that military success depends on improvements to the Afghan government.

“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 said. Roughly 67,000 U.S. forces and 42,000 allied troops are in Afghanistan.

Deliberations within the U.S. national security apparatus about the way forward in Afghanistan are said to cover a spectrum of proposals ranging from deploying more troops to counter the insurgency to a narrower, scaled-down approach that targets terrorists.

Counterinsurgency, a form of warfare in which a civilian population is viewed as the center of a tug-of-war between an insurgency and the forces attempting to stop it, is the strategy endorsed by Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and allied commander in Afghanistan.

Mullen today said positive effects are beginning to be seen from the international counterinsurgency campaign in Helmand province, where Marines have been heavily engaged since July. But he warned that problems in Afghanistan would not be fixed by the military alone.

“It’s clearly not just a military solution here,” he said. “The military is a necessary part of this, but it is not sufficient. There has to be some level of government and development.”

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