November 16th, 2010
02:24 PM ET

Afghan official tries to smooth tensions created by Karzai comments

An Afghan government official worked Tuesday to publicly smooth over tensions created when President Hamid Karzai spoke extensively about reducing U.S. military operations and the number of American forces in Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Karzai spokesman Wahid Omer acknowledged an effort to ease tensions following a Karzai interview published Sunday in The Washington Post.

The effort came after Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the United States' military operation in Afghanistan, personally warned Afghan officials over the weekend that the U.S.-Afghan partnership could be "untenable" if Karzai wants U.S. troops out of Afghanistan prematurely.

A senior coalition military official confirmed details of what Petraeus said, but asked not to be identified so he could speak more candidly.

Petraeus made his statements Sunday in a meeting with Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan official in charge of planning the efforts to handle transition from coalition to Afghan control. A planned Sunday meeting with Karzai was rescheduled, but officials insisted it was not canceled due to the tensions.

After reading the Post article, Petraeus said he felt the views expressed by Karzai "makes it untenable for us to have a partnership," the senior coalition military official told CNN.

Petraeus has been "reassured" by Karzai and others that no rift with the United States exists, the official said.

But as the top commander, Petraeus clearly was laying down a marker. He "wanted to ensure the Afghan government understood he takes these issues very seriously," the official said. Petraeus "was reassured by President Karzai that he is fully supportive of the joint strategy, that we all share the desire for Afghan forces to take the lead, and that we've worked hard together to address all the issues over which President Karzai raised concerns and will continue to do so."

Omer said officials agreed to move on.

"Yes, there was a reaction to the Washington Post headline, but after I showed them [American and NATO officials] the full text [of the interview] and underlined a few things they understood," Omer said Tuesday. "We all said, 'let's forget it.'"

At the end of this week, Petraeus will brief a NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, on his plans for turning security control over to Afghans by 2014 - a goal that was agreed upon long ago.

But Karzai is under increasing pressure from within his own government to more quickly demonstrate independence from the United States and distance himself from controversial military night raids and the increasing number attacks conducted by coalition forces.

For his part, Petraeus has made clear he plans to continue the stepped-up attacks, which he feels are paying off in reducing the strength and capability of the Taliban. The coalition calculates there has been a sixfold increase in activities by special operations forces in the last 18 months, mostly directed against insurgents.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also defended the tactics.

"We believe that the use of intelligence-driven precision operations against high-value insurgents and their networks is a key component of our comprehensive civil-military operations," Clinton told journalists on Monday.

"These operations are conducted in full partnership with the government of Afghanistan," she said. "They include Afghan forces on each operation. There is no question they are having a significant impact on the insurgent leadership and the networks they operate."

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