Karzai Demands NATO Pullback After Murders
Afghan president Hamid Karzai demanded Thursday that NATO troops immediately pull out of rural areas in the wake of the murder of 16 civilians by a US soldier.
Karzai issued his demand as Afghan lawmakers furiously decried the US decision to fly the soldier suspected killings to Kuwait on Wednesday night instead of allowing him to be tried in the country.
"Afghan security forces have the ability to keep the security in rural areas and in villages on their own," Karzai said after meeting US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He said he had conveyed his demand to Panetta.
The Afghan president also reportedly wants Afghan forces to take the lead for countrywide security at the beginning of 2013 in a bid to accelerate the US troop drawdown by a full year.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai confirmed that Karzai had asked for an immediate NATO pull back from villages and rural areas to main bases.
"Karzai is confident that Afghan security forces are ready to take over and know a thousand times better than any foreign troops the culturally sensitive ways of dealing with their own people," Mosazai said.
However, military analysts say a NATO pullback would leave vast areas of the country unprotected and end the campaign to "win the hearts and minds" of the people.
It would also mean pulling US forces back from the Afghan-Pakistan border where fighting has been its most intense, and where Taliban forces launch most of their attacks from.
Also Thursday, the Taliban said it was suspending talks with the US because the Americans failed to follow through on its promises, made new demands and falsely claimed the terror group had entered into multilateral negotiations.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said they had agreed to discuss the establishment of the group's political office in Qatar and a prisoner exchange, but charged the Americans "turned their backs on their promises" and presented new conditions for the talks.
"So the Islamic Emirate [Taliban] has decided to suspend all talks with Americans taking place in Qatar from today onwards until the Americans clarify their stance on the issues concerned and until they show willingness in carrying out their promises instead of wasting time," Mujahid said.
"We must categorically state that the real source of obstacle in talks was the shaky, erratic and vague standpoint of the Americans, therefore all the responsibility for the halt also falls on their shoulders," he said.
Mujahid also said Karzai falsely claimed the Afghan government was involved in three-way peace talks with the Taliban and US, but that talking with the Afghan government was "pointless."
Karzai's demand coupled with the Taliban's decision to call off rapprochement with Washington is a blow to both US tracks aimed at ending the 10-year war in the country.
Obama's exit strategy, to transfer authority gradually to Afghan forces while pulling the Taliban into political discussion with Kabul, appears to be stalled.