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Exclusive: Galbraith talks about his firing

Former Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who was removed today as the second highest ranking U.N. official in Afghanistan, gives a behind the scenes account of his dismissal in an interview with The Cable. Chiefly, he blames his former longtime friend and boss Kai Eide, the U.N.’s top official in Kabul, for demanding that the U.N. remove ...

Former Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who was removed today as the second highest ranking U.N. official in Afghanistan, gives a behind the scenes account of his dismissal in an interview with The Cable.

Chiefly, he blames his former longtime friend and boss Kai Eide, the U.N.'s top official in Kabul, for demanding that the U.N. remove Galbraith after differences between them over how to handle fraud in the Afghan elections spilled over into the press.

"Basically, it's my understanding that Kai told the U.N. leadership 'he goes or I go,'" Galbraith said, adding "It was clear that Kai had been lobbying strongly against my return" to Afghanistan after Galbraith took a leave from his post there earlier this month.

Former Ambassador Peter Galbraith, who was removed today as the second highest ranking U.N. official in Afghanistan, gives a behind the scenes account of his dismissal in an interview with The Cable.

Chiefly, he blames his former longtime friend and boss Kai Eide, the U.N.’s top official in Kabul, for demanding that the U.N. remove Galbraith after differences between them over how to handle fraud in the Afghan elections spilled over into the press.

"Basically, it’s my understanding that Kai told the U.N. leadership ‘he goes or I go,’" Galbraith said, adding "It was clear that Kai had been lobbying strongly against my return" to Afghanistan after Galbraith took a leave from his post there earlier this month.

Galbraith was surprised to hear he had been sacked, especially since he and Eide had agreed on a specific time he would return to Afghanistan and because he had not been told anything and had to call in to the U.N. undersecretary general for peacekeeping to learn of his dismissal.

Eide, who long ago had introduced Galbraith to his wife, turned on him after their long running and multi-faceted dispute over how to handle the fraud discovered in the election became a public issue.

"He’s hyper sensitive against the press coverage," Galbraith said of Eide, "And at some point he decided he had enough of me and he wanted me gone."

Although the differences between the two were many, he said, one key difference was over how to handle what Galbraith calls "ghost polling centers," mostly in the southern part of the country, where Galbraith said massive fraud took place.

"These ghost polling centers had no pollsters, never opened, but had huge potential for fraud and in fact the fraud took place at these polling centers," Galbraith said.

Additionally, Galbraith alleges that Eide refused to hand over to the electoral complaints commission massive evidence that their staff had collected about actual incidents of vote fraud. Staff was frustrated that their evidence was going to waste after they put themselves at risk to collect it, he said.

Another major dispute was over whether the independent election commission would abandon its published safeguards against fraud in the wake of the disputed election. Galbraith wanted those standards upheld but Afghan President Hamid Karzai protested and Eide sided with Karzai, Galbraith explained.

A senior U.S. diplomat told The Cable that Eide’s repeated resistance to stronger anti-fraud measures both before and after the election was because his influence was directly tied to his relationship with Karzai.

"It’s a classic case of clientilism," the diplomat said.

Galbraith said that his relationship with Eide broke down in mid September, when Eide returned from a trip away from Afghanistan and determined he and Galbraith weren’t on the same page.

"He had no confidence that I would carry out his orders and I had no confidence in his leadership," said Galbraith.

Looking ahead, Galbraith said the U.N. can still play a constructive role in Afghanistan and that the process of examining sample ballots should move forward.

But, Galbraith quickly added, "If you don’t have a run-off election, the crisis continues."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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