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Altman: Afghan politician seeks Jill Kelley's help

Published:   |   Updated: July 29, 2013 at 09:04 AM

Since winning election to the lower house of the Afghan parliament three years ago, Baktash Siawash has been a constant critic of President Hamid Karzai.

An independent politician and former Afghan television star, journalist and blogger, Siawash has labeled Karzai "corrupt" and a "dictator," according to a 2011 profile in Al Jazeera and "publicly called for the impeachment" of Karzai, "claiming that the president 'stores millions of dollars from Iran in his office' and that he has yet to hold Pakistan accountable for 'interfering in Afghan affairs'."

These days, Siawash - at 29 the youngest member of parliament - is greatly concerned about prospects of a total withdrawal of U.S. troops after 2014, a possibility broached by the White House, which has dropped hints of a "Zero Option."

Americans, Siawash says, are being misled by Karzai, who is only interested in pursuing his personal agenda. So to reach out to the American public, Siawash has reached out to Tampa.

To Bayshore Boulevard.

To Jill Kelley.

"We as Afghan citizens are very concerned about the future of our country and we will use any opportunity to let the U.S. government know that everything is not OK and the Afghan government is not honest about everything with the U.S.," Siawash told me over the phone from Kabul late last week. "That's why we want to be in touch with famous people in the U.S. to avoid any conflict that may happen after 2014. Mrs. Kelley is a famous woman in the U.S. and has good relations with U.S. officials and we want her to support the Afghans."

Siawash says he first met Kelley back before she became famous.

It was sometime early last year, before a series of threatening emails to Kelley catapulted her onto the world stage as the trigger for an investigation that led to the uncovering of a sex scandal involving the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and his biographer/mistress.

Siawash says he had been invited to come to Tampa by the State Department as part of a delegation of Afghan politicians on a tour of U.S. Central Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base. Centcom oversees U.S. military operations in most of the Middle East and Southwest Asia, including Afghanistan.

At the time, Kelley and her husband Scott, an oncologist, were not known much beyond the leadership of Centcom and U.S. Special Operations Command, also headquartered at MacDill. The two hosted many parties for generals and admirals and foreign visitors and Kelley was ultimately recognized for her efforts by the Pentagon along with two other Tampa residents - John Osterweil and Mark Rosenthal - who also worked closely with Centcom and the coalition.

It was at one of those parties, at the brick manse on Bayshore attended by the parliament members, along with Centcom deputy commander Vice Adm. Robert Harward and the Afghan senior national representative to the coalition, that Siawash met Kelley.

The two, he says, have been in regular contact since.

A lot, of course, has changed in the interim. Kelley became the focal point of derision after her name was leaked as the person receiving the emails from Paula Broadwell, an Army Reserve major who was having an affair with David Petraeus. Petraeus, a friend of the Kelleys who had been introduced to the Tampa community at a party at their house when he came to town as Centcom commander, was forced to resign from his job as director of the CIA after the affair became public. During the investigation into the emails from Broadwell, the FBI found about 25,000 pages of emails between Kelley and Marine Gen. John Allen, who at the time was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Up for a job as the head of U.S. forces in Europe, Allen was the subject of a Department of Defense Inspector General's Office investigation. He was eventually cleared of any violations of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, but opted against pursuing the job in Europe.

And the Kelleys, whose financial and personal woes were dredged up during the Petraeus sex scandal, wound up suing the Pentagon, the FBI and the federal government for illegally collecting their emails and leaking her name, claiming they suffered damage to their reputation and finances.

Kelley, who threw so many parties for military leaders, hasn't since the Petraeus scandal broke. She told me the reason is that she "took a sabbatical after the government leaked my name as the victim of a stalking crime."

She said Siawash's outreach efforts compelled her to accept his request.

"I am honored to resume my focus to promote cross-cultural dialogue and global trust for a peaceful and strategic exit to help our U.S. and Coalition forces transition out of Afghanistan," Kelley said via email.

Centcom would not comment about Siawash's interest in having Kelley serve as a conduit to "deliver the right message."

The State Department said that while it deals directly with the Afghan government and is "committed to a long-term strategic partnership with the Afghan government and the Afghan people," its politicians are free to talk to whomever they want.

"Just as members of our congress talk to Afghan citizens or journalists, members of parliament are able to talk to whomever they wish," Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokeswoman, told me. "That does not change our relationship with the people of Afghanistan and the Afghanistan government and our goals and objectives."

Kelsey Glover, a spokeswoman for the Afghan Embassy in Washington, said that she couldn't comment about the specifics of Siawash's outreach effort. But an Afghan pol talking to a private American citizen "is not something out of the ordinary," she said, "except this involves a person who had notoriety in the past. These trips and connections are made on a near-constant basis."

****

The Pentagon announced the deaths of four soldiers last week in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

1st Lt. Jonam Russell, 25, of Cornville, Ariz., Sgt. Stefan M. Smith, 24 of Glennville, Ga., and Spc. Rob L. Nichols, 24, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died July 23, in Soltan Kheyl, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device. They were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.

Spc. Anthony R. Maddox, 22, of Port Arthur, Texas, died July 22, in Landstuhl, Germany, of a non-combat related incident that occurred in Andar, Afghanistan. The incident is under investigation. He was assigned to the 10th Brigade Support Battalion, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Fort Drum, N.Y.

There have now been 2,240 U.S. troop deaths in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, the nation's longest war.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 249-7629

@haltman




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