US war commander General David Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” over Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s recent call for a scale back of US military operations, a report said Monday.
Petraeus warned Afghan officials that Karzai’s weekend comments — in which he demanded dramatic reductions in operations such as night raids in local communities — could undermine progress against the Taliban-led insurgency, The Washington Post reported.
Petraeus expressed “astonishment and disappointment” with Karzai’s Saturday interview with the Post in which the Afghan leader called on the Pentagon to “reduce military operations” in the country, the daily quoted US and Afghan officials as saying on the condition of anonymity.
Karzai had urged the US military to lighten its footprint in his country and shift toward a more civilian development operation to “reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life.”
The commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan did not attend a scheduled meeting with Karzai Sunday in Kabul, the daily reported.
Karzai’s call for a reduction in military operations counter to the US plan of intensifying the offensive against the Taliban before any withdrawal, possibly as early as mid-2011.
Petraeus has made capturing and killing militants a key priority, but Karzai’s weekend comments sharply conflict with the strategy of US President Barack Obama’s administration.
“For (Karzai) to go this way, and at that particular stage, is really undermining endeavors” by Petraeus, a foreign diplomat in Kabul told the Post.
A senior NATO military official dismissed earlier reports that Petraeus threatened to resign over the clash.
But the commander met Sunday with Ashraf Ghani, who heads Afghanistan’s planning and transition, and made “hypothetical” references to the US inability to carry out effective military operations in the wake of Karzai’s remarks, officials were quoted as saying.
The controversy clearly casts a shadow over Afghanistan’s relations with the US-led international coalition of troops there just days before this week’s NATO summit in Portugal, which Karzai and Obama are expected to attend along with other leaders of the alliance’s 28 member states.
Obama has soft-pedaled on his plans to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next year, stressing instead his goal of handing over security to Afghans by 2014.
Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar, on Monday played down Karzai’s comments, saying such debate over operations “has always been there as the relationship is maturing.”