War effort in Afghanistan hits new low; Karzai is at “end of the rope” and many in US are, too
WASHINGTON, AP — Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he’s at “the end of the rope,” and a majority of Americans feel the same way.
Of all the past decade’s setbacks in the endeavor to form a solid alliance with Afghanistan and defeat the Taliban, the war effort has been driven to a new low by the slaughter of nine Afghan children and seven adults allegedly by a U.S. soldier.
The soldier was on his way Friday from a U.S. military detention facility in Kuwait to the maximum security prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., though Karzai demanded anew that he be tried under the Afghan justice system.
Karzai also is now insisting that U.S. forces retreat from rural areas immediately and let Afghans take the lead in security next year. But the White House and the Pentagon said Friday that nothing would collapse the war plan, even after the massacre, the inadvertent Quran burnings by U.S. soldiers and the deaths of seven American servicemen at the hands of their allies.
Polls have shown that up to 60 percent of Americans say it’s time to end the war in Afghanistan. And that’s not lost on the administration.
“The Afghan people are tired of war,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, just back from Afghanistan, acknowledged on Friday. “The American people share some of that tiredness after 10 years of war, as well. All of that’s understandable.”
But he also said he is confident that Americans realize the U.S. needs to finish its work of stabilizing Afghanistan to ensure that al-Qaida cannot against use that country as a launch pad to attack the United States. His theme — patience — is likely to dominate the discourse in Washington and in allied capitals in the lead-up to a NATO summit meeting in Chicago in May.
President Barack Obama called Karzai on Friday seeking clarification on the demand concerning U.S. troops in rural areas, and White House press secretary Jay Carney said the leaders agreed to keep discussing the matter, which is at the heart of the military strategy.
“I think that the two men were very much on the same page” about gradually handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces, with U.S. and other international troops switching to a support role throughout Afghanistan sometime in 2013, Carney said. A final transition to Afghan control is supposed to happen by the end of 2014.
Another pillar of the war strategy is creating meaningful peace talks with the Taliban insurgents, but that, too, suffered cracks in the aftermath of the village massacre. The Taliban said it was no longer talking on terms set by the Americans.
A senior U.S. official familiar with the discussions said American officials presume that the timing of the Taliban announcement following Sunday’s killings was an attempt to gain greater leverage. Officials have long calculated that the Taliban would not engage seriously in peace talks unless it had lost more ground militarily.
Despite calls for the Army suspect to be tried in Afghanistan, he was flown Wednesday to a military detention facility in Kuwait, where that country’s officials expressed unhappiness that they were not first consulted.