Karzai Urges Forces to Leave; Angers U.S., NATO

by Matthew Shaffer

The embarrassing revelations from Cablegate, combined with, in recent weeks, the accidental killing of nine Afghan boys and, most recently, Hamid Karzai’s cousin, appear to have indeed strained diplomatic relations with the Afghan president. Karzai earlier today asked that U.S. forces cease military operations in Afghanistan, but then later backtracked, or hedged, saying he meant only those which caused civilian deaths. Rod Nordland of  the New York Times describes it: 


In an emotional speech on Saturday in the eastern city of Asadabad, in Kunar Province, the Afghan president told relatives and neighbors of civilian victims that he sympathized with their plight. “With great honor and with great respect, and humbly rather than with arrogance, I request that NATO and America should stop these operations on our soil,” he said. “This war is not on our soil. If this war is against terror, then this war is not here, terror is not here.”

Mr. Karzai’s remarks were made at a memorial service for the victims, in the presence of local officials as well as the second highest ranking American general in Afghanistan, David M. Rodriguez. “Our demand is that this war should be stopped,” Mr. Karzai said. “This is the voice of Afghanistan.”

Whether his remarks were premeditated, taken out of context or just an emotional overstatement, his speech was another symptom of a deteriorating relationship between the Afghan president and the United States military command.

American officials were angered by Mr. Karzai’s remarks, said one official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the dispute with the Afghan president. Officially, NATO refrained from any direct response. But a spokesman, who said he could speak only on the condition of anonymity because of orders from superior officers, said the NATO force in Afghanistan “shares President Karzai’s concern about civilian casualties, and we will continue working to reduce civilian casualties to an absolute minimum.”

A few hours after the speech, Mr. Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omer, said the president’s remarks had been in the context of two recent cases of civilian casualties in Kunar Province, one of which NATO conceded had killed nine children in error. In the other case, Afghan officials maintained that 65 civilians had been killed, but NATO officials still insist the victims were insurgents, although an investigation is under way.

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