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New blow to US-Afghan relations? Congressional delegation meets Karzai foes

KABUL, Afghanistan -- An American Congressional delegation met with opponents of the government of President Hamid Karzai over the weekend, further straining already-tense relations between Kabul and the Obama administration.

The Afghanistan National Front (ANF) is the most prominent of the groups to succeed the so-called Northern Alliance. It is led by the brother of Ahmad Shah Massoud, a Tajik leader who was slain by al-Qaida days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The U.S. and Northern Alliance later worked together to oust the Taliban.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Gavin Sundwall told NBC News that the U.S. delegation was led by Texas Republican Louie Gohmert. The names of other members of the delegation were not released. 

"It is like (the U.S.) Ambassador going to Moscow and meeting with the opposition first," said NBC News correspondent Jim Maceda, who has reported on Afghanistan for more than 20 years. "It is an example of good intentions paving the way to hell."

The Northern Alliance, made-up largely of Tajiks and other non-Pashtun groups, opposed the Taliban for years and are struggling for more power under Karzai. Karzai, who also fought the Taliban, is Pashtun.  

"We understand that members of the U.S. Congress had a private meeting with former Northern Alliance political figures on April 22 in Kabul," the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said in a statement obtained by NBC News. "U.S. Embassy Kabul neither arranged nor participated in these meetings. The Members of Congress do not represent the State Department or any other part of the executive branch. Their presence and views at this privately arranged event do not reflect the view of the president or the administration."

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The embassy's statement followed news that Congressman Dana  Rohrabacher (R-Cal.), a fierce critic of of Karzai's government and the White House's policies in Afghanistan, was denied entry into the country over the weekend. 

Rohrabacher, the Republican chairman of the House foreign affairs subcommittee on oversight and investigation, was barred from entering Afghanistan from Dubai on Friday, the Guardian newspaper reported.

According to Rohrabacher's spokeswoman, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent a personal message from Karzai to the congressman saying he would not be welcome in Afghanistan and to cancel his visit, the newspaper said.

Rahmat Gul / AP

More than ten years after the beginning of the war, Afghanistan faces external pressure to reform as well as ongoing internal conflicts.

The U.S. delegation and the ANF issued a statement after the meeting condemning recent Taliban attacks and corruption, calling for a more decentralized form of government. 

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The ANF and the congressional delegation "call for a comprehensive intra-Afghan dialogue immediately with the support of [the] international community that would lead to the implementation of a parliamentary form of democracy with decentralization of executive power to the provinces with elected management."

The statement also called Rohrabacher "a great friend of the Afghan people" and condemned the fact he was "not permitted to enter Afghanistan because of his support for constitutional reform."

Msnbc.com's F. Brinley Bruton contributed to this report.

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