Karzai Picks Fight with Petraeus Over War Strategy

The Afghan president gets hostile

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai complicated his already tense relationship with the U.S. in recent comments to the Washington Post, which he told, "The time has come to reduce military operations. The time has come to reduce the presence of, you know, boots in Afghanistan ... to reduce the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life." He also complained of the U.S. ramp-up, led by General David Petraeus, and the increase in special forces "night raids," which he says are disrupting and angering local communities. U.S. officials close to Petraeus responded with outrage, saying that Karzai was undermining the war effort. Here's what Afghanistan-watchers have to say about the exchange and its fall-out.

  • Karzai Must Hedge on U.S. Alliance  Time's Michael Crowley notes, "Karzai has always played something of a two-step, publicly bashing American military tactics in ways that are popular with his people--he called for an end to U.S. air strikes more than a year ago--while privately maintaining good relations with our military leaders. ... Because I find it hard to believe that the Afghan leader really wants the bulk of America's forces out of his country anytime soon. Protected only by his own government's security forces, Karzai's days would be numbered. For the moment, Karzai needs us as much as we need him."
  • What Karzai Wants  National security blogger Michael Cohen appraises, "I too find it hard to believe that Karzai wants American troops to leave the country anytime soon. ... But if you read Karzai's comments closely he's not lobbying for US troops to leave; instead he seems to be suggesting that the large US military footprint - and the newly aggressive US military approach - needs to be reduced. That doesn't seem like an unreasonable argument."
  • The Iraq Precedent  Commentary's Max Boot sighs, "This kerfuffle reminds me of many similar statements made over the years by Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq." Maliki also "had a history of calling for U.S. troop withdrawals" but in his behavior mostly remained dedicated to the U.S. effort. "Karzai, too, should be judged by his actions, rather than by his occasional expressions of public frustration with the coalition. He has not done anything as dramatic as Maliki, who ordered his security forces to clear Basra and Sadr City of the Sadrist militia, but he has taken some positive steps such as agreeing to the setting up of the Afghan Local Police program to augment the Afghan security forces."
  • Suggests U.S. Should Focus on Withdrawal  Wired's Spencer Ackerman explains, "However open-ended the Karzai-NATO plan for transition actually is, Karzai made clear this weekend that he’s going to act more as a critic of ongoing military operations than a partner. Petraeus is unlikely to advocate any accelerated bug-out of Afghanistan. But with Karzai loudly dismissing Petraeus’ Afghanistan strategy, the general may find there’s a limit to what he can accomplish. And that might compel both Afghans and Americans to ask if there shouldn’t be a firmer deadline to end the war than the one 2014 currently represents."
  • Karzai's Authority Should Supersede Petraeus's  Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis reminds us, "Petraeus’s reaction is, of course, understandable considering that Karzai was clearly undermining Petraeus’s authority and the strategy that he was sent to  implement and see through to fruition. Of course, being that Karzai is the leader of the country in which Petraeus is operating it seems fairly clear that it’s his authority that has primacy here. We are not, after all, an empire. Right?"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.