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US Defends Afghanistan Tactics After Karzai Calls for Troop Reduction
Afghan president warned he is undermining war effort by publicly criticising military strategy against Taliban fighters
The White House and the head of Nato have defended US tactics against the Taliban after the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, again angered Washington by publicly criticising military operations and calling for a reduction in the number of troops on the ground.
Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, threw her support behind targeted assaults and raids against Taliban fighters after Karzai told the Washington Post that they increase Afghan civilians' hostility to coalition forces and help the insurgents.
Karzai said: "The time has come to reduce military operations [and] boots in Afghanistan … to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life."
Nato's military commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, responded to Karzai's demands by warning that his criticisms threaten to undermine the war and could make Petraeus's position "untenable", the Post reported.
Clinton today supported Petraeus, saying that while the US shares some of Karzai's concerns about the toll of raids on civilians, the strategy is right. "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," she said.
The head of Nato, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, also backed US military tactics days before Barack Obama, other Nato leaders and Karzai are to meet in Lisbon to map out a gradual shift in security responsibility from foreign troops to Afghan forces, beginning next year.
The US said it expects the plan to confirm that Nato forces will remain to carry out combat missions until 2014.
Rasmussen said that the military assault against the Taliban must continue in order to force them to the negotiating table: "I consider it of utmost importance to continue our military operations because it is the increasing military pressure on the Taliban and the Taliban leadership that has stimulated the reconciliation talks.
"I can't say I agree with everything President Karzai has stated on all issues, but we also have to accept that he is the elected president of the country and of course he can express his views as he wishes."
The Afghan government tried to undo some of the damage caused by Karzai's interview, the latest in a series of public disagreements with the Americans, who have come to view him as erratic.
Karzai's spokesman, Waheed Omar, said that the full text showed that the Afghan president was "very clear about his confidence in General Petraeus".
He said that Karzai was not making a "critique" of the overall strategy in Afghanistan, and that he had been speaking in the context of the transition plan, which calls for Afghan forces to gradually take the leading role in operations.
He said that the international coalition understood the government's "traditional and cultural sensitivities" over raids on homes by foreign soldiers.
Nato officials have been irritated by the quotes because Afghan forces are involved in night raids – something the government has been lobbying for years for.
One diplomat described Karzai's remarks as "astounding and breathtaking". He said: "Is it right to undermine the strategy of your partner so directly and fundamentally in public without telling him first?"
Others have reacted with resignation given Karzai's history of contentious comments. said one aAnother official said: "It is not helpful a few days before Lisbon. But a reliable partner in Kabul is a registered trademark, not an actual reality."
Obama's special representative, Richard Holbrooke, reiterated that while some US troops will be pulled out of Afghanistan next year, the combat mission will go on at least until 2014.
"We do not have an exit strategy but a transition strategy," Holbrooke said, adding that "2014 is not the end of international presence in Afghanistan [but] to be sure there will be some drawdown [of troops] in July next year. The size and pace will be decided by the president."
The Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, said that the insurgents had no intention of negotiating with Karzai's government, despite claims that the two sides are already talking. He said the Taliban would escalate their attacks on Nato forces to "compel the enemy to come out from their hideouts and then crush them through tactical raids".