Afghanistan president backs US General McChrystal to keep job
KABUL Ã¢â‚¬â€ President Hamid Karzai’s government swung behind the embattled US commander in Afghanistan on Wednesday, warning that his sacking “would not be helpful” at a critical juncture in a nine-year war.
US General Stanley McChrystal has been summoned to the White House amid speculation he may lose his job over disparaging remarks he made about top officials in President Barack Obama’s administration in a magazine interview.
But Karzai — whose own relations with the White House have also been troubled — expressed “confidence” in the general during a pre-planned Tuesday video conference call with Obama, his spokesman said.
“The president believes that we’re in a sensitive juncture in our partnership, in our war on terror, in process of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan and that any gap in this process will not be helpful,” Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omar told reporters.
“General Stanley McChrystal is a very important part of this process and we hope that he continues to partner with the Afghan government and others in Afghanistan to achieve the goal that we have set together,” Omar said.
Omar said the Kabul government also believed the general had made a mistake but said that should not detract from the urgency of trying to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, where McChrystal oversees about 142,000 troops.
“We agree this was a mistake, we also agree that we’re all prone to make mistakes. In the past nine years there have mistakes made in Afghanistan.
“But for the continuation of the process in Afghanistan and the critical time that we’ve ahead — his presence is going to be greatly important.”
He suggested that if McChrystal were removed, his departure could interrupt counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan crafted under his command.
“We hope that for the sake of moving the process forward smoothly and not interrupting the process, that there’s not a change of leadership in the international forces here in Afghanistan,” he said.
Karzai himself faced criticism this month over sacking his intelligence chief and interior minister — two of Afghanistan’s top security officials and admired in the West — after a rocket attack on a landmark peace meeting.
But the presidency credited McChrystal with helping to “increase the level of trust” with the Afghan people since he assumed command last year.
Karzai and Obama have endured months of discord and worsening relations, but made an effort to present a united front during the Afghan leader’s last visit to Washington on May 12.
Last December, Obama announced he was sending an extra 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan in an effort to regain the upper hand against the Taliban, but said he would being withdrawing troops from the country in mid-2011.
Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi also stepped behind McChrystal, saying there had been great improvements since the general took command of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force.
“There have been enormous changes in different areas and these changes have been very important and positive,” Azimi told a news conference.
“For instance, civilian deaths have decreased and we are still working together with General McChrystal to further reduce this,” he said.
Obama has said the four-star officer showed “poor judgment” and left open the possibility he would fire the commander.
But Azimi said coordination between Afghan and NATO troops has improved, and that the general’s counter-insurgency strategy has opened the door to reconstruction, development and governance efforts.
“These are the things that we didn’t have with other NATO commanders in the past,” Azimi said.