A Southern California congressman who has been intensely critical of Afghan President Hamid Karzai was stopped from boarding a military flight to Afghanistan last week, leaving him to wait in the Persian Gulf region while a congressional delegation went on to visit U.S. troops and American government officials.
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who represents the coastal stretches from Huntington Beach to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, said U.S. military officials told the delegation the plane couldn’t take off from Dubai if he were onboard. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton then called him and asked him to hold off, he said.
“Hillary was very clear that this came from Karzai,” Rohrabacher said in a telephone interview Monday from Qatar. In light of strains in the U.S.-Afghan relationship, “for me to precipitate another mini-crisis, she felt, would have been harmful.” Rohrabacher agreed not to go.
Afghan officials say Rohrabacher lacked a visa. But State Department officials said no other members of Congress have been barred from Afghanistan, and members usually aren't required to get visas because they fly into military bases.
The delegation went on to Afghanistan, while he stayed behind in the region and met with the emir of Abu Dhabi, military leaders based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and the heads of several financial institutions, he said.
Rohrabacher has advocated for a more decentralized system in Afghanistan that devolves power to the provinces and has been critical of government corruption. In January he met in Berlin with a group of Karzai's political foes based in northern Afghanistan.
“The current system is failing to establish itself in a way that would prevent the Taliban from taking power,” he said. Karzai “is trying to shoot the messenger because the message is bad for him.”
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles and Paul Richter in Washington
Photo: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher addresses the Republican Party of Orange County at the Hyatt Hotel in Irvine on Nov. 7, 2006. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times