Official preliminary final totals in Afghanistan's recent presidential election have incumbent president Hamid Karzai the winner, but the election was marred by allegations of massive vote fraud. A U.N. electoral oversight group has ordered a partial recount. But the head of the Central Intelligence Agency believes that will not make much of a difference.
In an exclusive VOA interview, CIA director Leon Panetta says that even if suspect ballots are discounted, President Hamid Karzai will in all likelihood win re-election.
"It's clear that there was some degree of corruption and fraud involved in the election," Panetta said. "It's being viewed now by the commissions involved in counting those votes. I think what appears to be the case is that even after they eliminate some of the votes that resulted because of fraud, that Karzai will still - still looks like the individual who's going to be able to win that election."
The preliminary final results have Mr. Karzai with enough votes to avoid a runoff with former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Mr. Karzai has angrily denied major fraud and denounced the media for what he says are exaggerated reports of electoral corruption.
The election comes at a crucial time as the U.S. ponders its strategy in Afghanistan and whether more troops are needed. The Taliban has expanded its influence and ratcheted up attacks on NATO troops.
CIA chief Panetta says that the Taliban fighters of 2009 are not necessarily the same as the Taliban of 2001, and that in fact there is no single Taliban. He says there are different groups, usually along tribal lines, fighting for different reasons.
"It's a mixed bag. You don't have just one brand of Taliban," Panetta noted. "The ones that we're most concerned with, however, are those that are obviously engaging in military action, are taking American lives, and are operating in a way that we see as much more effective and much more efficient in terms of warfare. And that's what concerns us, it concerns the president of the United States."
Panetta says the Taliban attacking NATO troops are still getting help from across the border in Pakistan.
"Well, we think that they continue to receive encouragement from al-Qaida in Pakistan, and they continue to receive encouragement from the terrorists who are located in Pakistan, and that because of that relationship we view them very much as a threat to peace in Afghanistan," Panetta said.
The CIA has come under fire for using rough interrogation techniques on al-Qaida and Taliban fighters. The so-called enhanced interrogation techniques were ordered by senior officials in the Bush administration. Speaking to agency employees in April, President Obama initially promised not to investigate or prosecute CIA officers after Justice Department memos disclosing the rough methods surfaced. But in August Attorney General Eric Holder ordered an investigation of CIA officers for alleged abuse of detainees. Panetta, who is a political appointee to the CIA job, vehemently opposed the action.
Asked what he says to angry CIA officers who feel betrayed by the Obama administration's action, he says he tells them to stay focused.
"I think that if we get trapped by the politics of the past it'll take away our future and impact on our ability to do our jobs. So my message to the people at the CIA is, let's do our job, let's stick together," Panetta said. "If we do, I think we can deal with whatever takes place politically in Washington because in the end what Washington needs and what this country needs is a CIA that is focused on doing its job."
The probe is expected to cover both direct CIA employees and contractors. Despite his opposition, Panetta says he and the agency will cooperate with the inquiry.