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Karzai Criticism of U.S. Mission Renews Afghan-American Tensions

November 15, 2010 at 4:56 PM EDT
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the Washington Post this weekend that the U.S. should scale back its mission, including night raids, in Afghanistan. The comments are the latest source of tension between Karzai's government and the Obama administration. Gwen Ifill has details.

GWEN IFILL: A high-profile dispute played out today between the man running Afghanistan’s government and the man running military operations there. It raised new questions about the future of those operations.

It was the latest flash point in a tense relationship. Over the weekend, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told The Washington Post that the U.S. should scale back its mission in Afghanistan, the sooner the better.

Post reporter Joshua Partlow was one of the reporters who met with Karzai in Kabul.

JOSHUA PARTLOW, The Washington Post: I think there are a few main — main things that he’s most unhappy about, and he’s been repeating them for quite a while.

One is civilian casualties. He’s upset that NATO and U.S. forces have been killing innocent civilians in the course of their operations, albeit at lower numbers than it used to be. He’s upset that soldiers are going into Afghan homes and looking for Taliban commanders.

And he’s also, I think, in general just upset that there’s so many troops in the Afghan countryside, on the roads, in people’s houses. And he’s responding to the anger that he hears from Afghan people.

GWEN IFILL: Karzai also wants the coalition to stop so-called night raids: joint operations between coalition and Afghan special operators.

JOSHUA PARTLOW: In the past eight months, they have risen about six-fold. They do about 200 operations a month. And generally they’re going after high-value Taliban or insurgent targets. They’re trying to go into people’s, you know, homes or find them wherever they are and capture and kill these guys and disrupt the network.

GWEN IFILL: The man in charge of that strategy is General David Petraeus, the commander of NATO and American forces in Afghanistan. By all accounts, Petraeus, who assumed control of the joint forces this summer, wasn’t pleased by Karzai’s latest complaints.

JOSHUA PARTLOW: From everything we heard, yes, General Petraeus was very upset, and communicated that to the Afghans, and basically said, you know, if President Karzai continues with — you know, really wants to push this vision, that, you know, it makes it then difficult to achieve his goals.

GWEN IFILL: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also defended Petraeus’ approach.

U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: But we believe that the use of intelligence-driven, precision-targeted operations against high-value insurgents and their networks is a key component of our comprehensive civilian military operations.

There is no question that they are having a significant impact on the insurgent leadership and the networks that they operate.

GWEN IFILL: The reclusive Afghan Taliban chief, Mullah Omar, also weighed in, appealing to Muslims worldwide to assist in the war effort, and promising that the Taliban would increase operations throughout the country.

President Karzai has sought repeatedly to jump-start negotiations with the Taliban, an effort that has gained tacit U.S. support. But, in many other instances, Karzai has had frosty, often acrimonious relations with the Obama White House.

In August, he said the coalition strategy had been ineffective, apart from causing civilian casualties. He has also demanded that private security firms leave Afghanistan, a move that could jeopardize some international aid projects.

And Karzai has also been unable to shake off a cloud of corruption allegations that have hovered over his government. Petraeus, Karzai and President Obama will join NATO officials in Lisbon this week to discuss how to transfer security responsibility to the Afghans, but not until 2014.

The Afghan foreign minister discussed the plan today during a visit to Iran.

ZALMAI RASSOUL, Foreign Minister of Afghanistan: The transition of this responsibility of the security from the international forces to Afghan forces should start by 2011 and should be finished by 2014. That means, by 2014, the Afghan national security forces should be in charge of the security of Afghanistan.

GWEN IFILL: For now, it is the coalition leading that job. And it’s an increasingly dangerous one. This morning, an American base was rocketed in Asadabad near the Pakistan border. Six large mine-resistant vehicles were destroyed.

And five NATO troops were killed yesterday in Eastern Afghanistan. That brings to 33 the number of coalition dead this month. Nearly 650 have been killed this year, by far the most since the war began.