Karzai claims US conspires with Taliban
Updated: 2013-03-12 10:02
Afghan president says Washington seeks excuse to stay in the country
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused the United States of colluding with the Taliban to justify its presence in Afghanistan, dumbfounding US officials during a problematic visit by the new Pentagon chief.
A joint news conference by Karzai and US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was canceled on Sunday, as the Afghan leader's allegations compounded the troubled nature of the visit after a security scare from twin bomb attacks on Saturday.
US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel steps aboard a C-17 military aircraft on Monday as he prepares to depart Kabul for Washington. [Photo/Agencies]
"The bombs that were detonated in Kabul and Khost were not a show of force, they were serving America," Karzai said in a televised speech, referring to the two suicide blasts that killed 19 people.
The president said the US was in "daily" talks with the Taliban in Europe and Gulf countries, and that insurgent suicide attacks enabled the international military force to vindicate its deployment in Afghanistan.
"It is their slogan for 2014, scaring us that if the US is not here, our people will be eliminated," he said, as US-led combat troops begin a long withdrawal after more than a decade of war.
Karzai, who has frequently lashed out at perceived US slights through inflammatory language, was angered by a new delay to the planned transfer of the controversial Bagram jail from US to Afghan control.
He is also adamant that his government must be involved in any US-Taliban contact, although the Islamist militia dismisses him as a US puppet and says no dialogue has taken place with the US since a year ago.
The president's news conference with Hagel was scrapped just a few hours before it was due to be held at the presidential palace in Kabul, with US officials citing unspecified security concerns.
Political tension for US
While Hagel encountered political tensions with the Afghan president and a series of security problems during his first visit to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, he finally met privately with Karzai and said they discussed the key issues.
Hagel said he understands that Karzai faces political pressures as the war winds down.
"I think he understands where we are and where we've been, and hopefully where we're going together," Hagel told reporters, but he declined to detail their talks.
Hagel is disputing Karzai's accusations that the US and the Taliban are working in concert to show that violence in the country will worsen if most coalition troops leave.
The top US commander in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford, also rejected the charges Karzai made Sunday as "categorically false".
But the accusations were just the latest in a series of disputes that have frayed relations between the two nations as the US works to wrap up the war and turn the country's security over to the Afghans, as Washington has promised.
Speaking to reporters soon after Karzai made the comments, Dunford said the Afghan leader has never expressed such views to him but said it was understandable that tensions would arise as the coalition balances the need to complete its mission with the Afghans' move to exercise more sovereignty.
"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," said Dunford.
AFP - AP