The top U.S. general in Afghanistan expressed dismay on Sunday at remarks by President Hamid Karzai, who suggested that Washington benefited from Taliban attacks on his country. Karzai’s remarks, delivered during the first visit by new U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, further strained already fraught ties between Karzai and the Western allies who are fighting to protect his government from insurgents.
The United States still has 66,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from almost 100,000 two years ago at the height of a surge ordered by President Barack Obama. Washington intends to withdraw most of them by the end of next year but wants to negotiate a continued, smaller presence. Speaking a day after two Taliban bomb attacks that killed 17 people, Karzai said the bombings served Washington’s aim of trying to convince Afghans that U.S. forces were needed.
“Those bombs that went off in Kabul and Khost were not a show of force to America. They were in service of America. It was in the service of the 2014 slogan to warn us if they (Americans) are not here then Taliban will come,” Karzai said. “In fact those bombs, set off yesterday in the name of the Taliban, were in the service of Americans to keep foreigners longer in Afghanistan,” he said in a speech.
Karzai’s remarks drew a rebuke from General Joseph Dunford, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. “We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the past 12 years, we have done too much to help the Afghan security forces grow over the last 12 years to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage,” he told reporters. Of Karzai’s remarks, he added: “I’ll let others judge whether that’s particularly helpful or not at the political level.”