WASHINGTON - Top US military officer Admiral Mike Mullen expressed serious concern Wednesday over corruption in the Afghan government, warning President Hamid Karzai to crack down on offenders.
"We are extremely concerned about the level of corruption and the legitimacy of this government," Mullen told reporters. "It's far too much endemic."
Newly re-elected Karzai "has got to take significant steps to eliminate corruption," the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff warned.
"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."
Mullen suggested sending additional US troops to Afghanistan would not make sense if the Kabul government failed to earn credibility.
"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.
The admiral's comments came as Obama weighs whether to order tens of thousands of reinforcements to Afghanistan as requested by his commander there, General Stanley McChrystal.
Obama has urged Karzai to take decisive action against corrupt officials and Mullen said it was crucial that government at both the local and national level better serve the Afghan people.
"You have to have a governance, not just in Kabul... but also in provinces, in districts," Mullen said, adding that "the legitimacy really needs to be in the eyes of the Afghan people."
Mullen added: "He (Karzai) has to take ownership for his own country."
Obama on Monday congratulated Karzai on his re-election but urged him to wipe out corruption.
The US administration has made little secret of its concerns with Karzai's alleged graft and his pacts with unsavoury warlords.
Having won office in a vote plagued by allegations of massive fraud, Karzai on Tuesday pledged to get to work to eradicate corruption.
Karzai's brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, head of the province of Kandahar, has been accused of having ties to Afghanistan's lucrative illegal opium trade.
Afghanistan is gripped by an increasingly violent Islamist insurgency despite the presence of more than 100,000 NATO-led troops, including 68,000 American forces.
Insurgent attacks have made 2009 the deadliest year for foreign troops -- as well as Afghan forces and civilians -- since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001.