Kerry Defends Karzai’s 'Legitimate Evaluations' of ISAF After Karzai Kicks Out U.S. Special Forces

By Patrick Goodenough | February 26, 2013 | 5:10am EST

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Britain, marking the start of his first official trip overseas, on Sunday, Feb. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

( – Afghan President Hamid Karzai has carried out “many legitimate evaluations” of the actions of coalition forces in Afghanistan and of “how sometimes some things have gone wrong or might be changed and be done better,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday.

Speaking in London, Kerry was responding to a reporter’s question about Karzai’s order a day earlier for U.S. Special Forces to leave a key eastern province over allegations of torture by Afghans working with them.

“I think you know I’ve had a great deal of involvement with Afghanistan with President Karzai,” said Kerry, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I think he’s had many legitimate evaluations of how sometimes some things have gone wrong or might be changed and be done better. We’re working on that.”

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Kerry expressed understanding for the concerns expressed by Afghan government officials about the situation in Wardak province and said they would be “appropriately evaluated” by the NATO-led International Security Force in Afghanistan (ISAF).

He made no reference to the fact that, about eight hours earlier, ISAF spokesmen had told a press conference in Kabul that no evidence had been found to support allegations of U.S. Special Forces misconduct in Wardak.

Kerry noted that the U.S. and Afghanistan are negotiating a bilateral security arrangement for the post-2014 period, adding “We’ve had a very good conversation with the president [Karzai] in the last days.”

“President Obama talked to him before making announcements about the transition,” he continued, referring to the president’s State of the Union declaration that 34,000 U.S. troops would be withdrawn this year and that, “by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

“We’ve listened very carefully to his [Karzai’s] observations about wanting to speed up the transition with respect to the management of security, and that’s happening,” Kerry said. “So I can assure you we are finely tuned to the needs of the Afghan people and to the most effective ways to make this transition together with our allies who have spent their treasure too in this initiative, in a way that’s most effective.”

Kerry said he was therefore “not surprised by the request” to withdraw Special Forces from Wardak.

“It’s something that, as I said, ISAF will deal with initially. But we’re going to do everything in our power to effect this transition as smoothly and as sensitively as possible to the concerns of the government and the concerns of the Afghan people. If we don’t, it won’t work properly.”

Kerry did not elaborate on the “legitimate evaluations” Karzai has made, but the Afghan leader last week instructed that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) may no longer request coalition air support under “any circumstances.” He took the decision after an airstrike – called in during a joint ISAF-ANSF raid – in which ten civilians were killed together with four Taliban fighters.

Earlier, Karzai focused his attention on night raids, ordering in May 2011 that they be “independently conducted” by ANSF troops, in order “to prevent foreign troops from uncoordinated and arbitrary operations.”

ISAF described the night-time operations as “indispensable,” but six months later Karzai put his foot down, saying he was making an end to night raids and house searches a precondition for concluding a strategic partnership agreement with the United States. After 20 months of negotiations that agreement was eventually signed by Obama during a visit to Kabul last May.

Testy ally

Karzai’s relationship with the U.S. has long been testy, with recent years witnessing tensions arising from incidents including the damaging of copies of the Qur’an at the U.S. military base in Bagram – Karzai said the U.S. should “bring the perpetrators of the act to justice and put them on trial and punish them” – the appearance of photos showing soldiers with the bodies of dead insurgents, and the deaths of civilians in airstrikes and night-time raids targeting terrorists.

In May 2011, Karzai told a press conference in Kabul that if ISAF “attacks on our houses” continue, “then their presence will change from a force that is fighting against terrorism to a force that is fighting against the people of Afghanistan. And in that case, history shows what Afghans do with trespassers and with occupiers.”

The following month he declared in a televised speech that the U.S.-led foreign troops were in Afghanistan “for their own national interests,” prompting the departing U.S. ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, to observe that the American people were growing “weary” of being viewed as “occupiers” by the leaders of a country where so many American lives have been lost.

That October, Karzai raised eyebrows again when he told Pakistan’s biggest satellite TV network that in the event of any war between Pakistan and the United States, “we will stand by Pakistan.”

The State Department played down the comment, with spokeswoman Victoria Nuland saying, “This is a scenario that’s not going to happen, so it’s not worth discussing.”

More than 2,170 American soldiers have been killed in the conflict launched in response to the September 2001 terrorist attacks, among a total of more than 3,250 coalition fatalities. The U.S. and other mostly Western governments have also spent billions of dollars to bolster Karzai’s government over the past eight years.

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