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Karzai tells NATO pull back, Taliban-U.S. talks off

By Amir Shah and Sebastian Abbot

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 06:45 a.m. HST, Mar 15, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan >> The American campaign in Afghanistan suffered a double blow Thursday: The Taliban broke off talks with the U.S., and President Hamid Karzai demanded NATO troops immediately pull out of rural areas in the wake of the killing of 16 civilians.

The setbacks effectively paralyze the two main tracks for ending the 10-year-old war. Part of that exit strategy is to transfer authority gradually to Afghan forces. Another tack is to pull the Taliban into political discussions with the Afghan government, though it's unclear that there has been any progress since January.

Although Karzai has previously said that he wanted international troops to transition out of rural areas, the call for an immediate exit is new. Karzai is known for making dramatic demands then backing off under U.S. pressure.

Even if the U.S. refuses to comply or Karzai eventually changes his tone, the call for a pullback will likely become another issue of contention between the Afghans and their international allies at a time of growing war weariness in the United States and other countries of the international coalition.

Karzai spoke as Afghan lawmakers were expressing outrage that the U.S. flew the soldier suspected in the 16 civilian killings to Kuwait on Wednesday night when they were demanding he 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 in a statement after meeting visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He said he had conveyed his demand to Panetta.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai confirmed that Karzai was asking for NATO to immediately 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.

If the NATO troops do pull back, it would leave vast areas of the country unprotected and essentially mean the end of the strategy of trying to win hearts and minds by working with and protecting the local populations.

The American accused of killing 16 civilians on Sunday was stationed on just such a base, where a small group of soldiers worked with villagers to try to set up local defense forces and strengthen government.

Withdrawing from rural areas would also mean pulling back U.S. forces from the border areas with Pakistan.

The accused soldier, who has not been named, is suspected of going on a shooting rampage in villages near his base in southern Afghanistan, killing nine children and seven other civilians and then burning some of their bodies.

Karzai told Panetta that everything must be done to prevent any such incidents in the future, including speeding up timelines for NATO pullbacks.

Karzai also said he now wants Afghan forces take the lead for countrywide security in 2013 in what appeared to be a move to push the U.S. toward an earlier drawdown.

He spoke a day after President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron said in Washington that they and their NATO allies were committed to shifting to a support role in Afghanistan in 2013 — a year earlier than scheduled. But it appeared that Karzai was requesting the change take place at the beginning of — rather than over the course of — 2013.

Obama gave his fullest endorsement yet for the mission shift, but he said the overall plan to gradually withdraw forces and hand over security in Afghanistan will stand.

In January, after French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggested that foreign forces speed up their timetable for handing combat operations to Afghan forces in 2013, Karzai said he would favor that — if it were achievable.

The Taliban said it was suspending talks with the U.S. because the Americans failed to follow through on its promises, made new demands and falsely claimed the militant group had entered into multilateral negotiations.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that they had agreed to discuss two issues with the Americans: the establishment of the militant group's political office in Qatar and a prisoner exchange. The Taliban said the Americans initially agreed to take practical steps on these issues, but then "turned their backs on their promises" and came up with new conditions for the talks.

"So the Islamic Emirate 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. The Taliban refers to itself as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

"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.

The Taliban also said Karzai falsely claimed the Afghan government was involved in three-way peace talks with the militants and the U.S. The Taliban said talking with the Afghan government was "pointless."

Panetta applauded Karzai last month for telling an interviewer that the U.S., Afghan government and the Taliban recently held three-way talks aimed at moving toward a political settlement of the war.

The Taliban denied the claim at the time.

Afghan officials told The Associated Press that the U.S. had agreed in January to include representatives of the Karzai government in future meetings, but U.S. officials would not confirm that. U.S. officials did say that if this initial trust-building phase of contacts with the Taliban blossoms into full peace negotiations, the U.S. would sit alongside the Taliban and the Afghan government.

The secretary of the Afghan peace council, which has been pushing for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, said it was not clear why the Taliban stopped negotiations with the United States.

Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar speculated that it could be related to the Taliban's request that five top Taliban leaders be released from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He said Afghan government needs to be involved in the negotiations.

"In the past, we did a lot of preliminary work to build trust and goodwill for talks," he said, adding that if the Afghans are not involved, any peace process won't work.


Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann, Heidi Vogt and Lolita C. Baldor in Kabul, Mirwais Khan in Kandahar, Kathy Gannon in Islamabad and Adam Schreck in Kuwait City, Kuwait, contributed to this report.

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kawika72 wrote:
Hey, pull out already! They don't want us there. What are you waiting for!!!
on March 15,2012 | 07:04AM
loquaciousone wrote:
Yes, its time to stop pandering to Karzai and his cronies. Leave him and his brother to the Taliban.
on March 15,2012 | 07:41AM
bernardorgarcia wrote:
I agree!
on March 15,2012 | 07:53AM
bernardorgarcia wrote:
I agree!
on March 15,2012 | 07:53AM
bernardorgarcia wrote:
Enough is enough! We should withdraw now! We spend billions and we really are not wnated anymore. It's time to let them sort their own crap out. Without our forces and our money!
on March 15,2012 | 07:45AM
kispest wrote:
The hell with karzai and his ragheads! Let's get out from there and let them kill each other!
on March 15,2012 | 08:32AM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
The U.S. has got to stop propping up Karzai and his corrupt goverment already. Time to leave since there will be no progress as long as Karzai remains in power.
on March 15,2012 | 08:33AM
Grimbold wrote:
This comment has been deleted.
on March 15,2012 | 09:00AM
butinski wrote:
Yes sir, right away sir. Anything you say sir. By the way, I'll have fries with the burger and no cheese.
on March 15,2012 | 03:12PM
Kapakahi wrote:

Some of the comments here want to blame Karzai for the situation, but that avoids the real truth. The idea the United States could, through an armed occupation, forcibly "modernize" Afghanistan, was doomed from the start and only shows how arrogant and DUMB the Bush and Obama foreign policy elite are.

As Americans, we naturally care what happens to our troops and want to think of them as engaged in a good cause. It makes their suffering and sacrifices appear to have meaning, to be worthwhile. But they do not speak the language, do not understand the culture or the history of the place and, in many cases, are hostile to Islam, the religion at the core of Afghani life. As thier buddies get killed, they get angry and impatient, which tends to cause some of them to view the population with suspicion and contempt.

And what is the reasonable response of the Afghan people to the forces of occupation? We like to think they would welcome us as their protectors against the Taliban. But put ourselves in their shoes. How long would "red-blooded Americans" tolerate an army of occupation in the United States? How many of your relatives would you tolerate being rousted out of their homes at night, arrested, beaten? How many of your cousins, uncles, sons or fathers would you allow to be killed by the "protectors" before you start to hate the occupation army?

Of course, the Afghan army, police force and government is riddled with people who are passing information to the Taliban. And those who collaborate with the foreign occupier, even friendly translators, are viewed as traitors by those resisting the occupation. Under these conditions, being "pro-American" is a death sentence. Karzai is corrupt. Big surprise? Look at the history of "Third World" government leaders who have aligned themselves with the United States during a period of armed resistance against our presence and the vast majority are corrupt. You almost have to be corrupt to have enough power that the US is willing to pick you to be their puppet.

on March 15,2012 | 09:40AM
Kapakahi wrote:

But Karzai is NOT our puppet. Not completely. Just as the Afghanis who collaborated with the Soviets ended hanging from a lamppost, he knows he will be killed shortly after the Americans withdraw, as we inevitably will. Faced with an obvious death sentence, he is making whatever deals he can to stay alive, amass a fortune for himself, his family and allies and hopes to be on the last chopper taking off from the roof of the American Embassy. Meanwhile, he has to keep the various clans, warlords and ethnic groups together in an unwieldy alliance. Which of you would not be "corrupt" under such conditions?

So don't blame Karzai. Or, if you want to blame Karzai, save some of your blame for American hubris. The almost unconscious arrogance which led us to assume we were smart enough, noble enough, beloved and tough enough to conquer the Afghan people and drag them into our version of the 20th century. We do not want to understand, but we really should try, that the Soviets had very similar motives, which our propaganda chiefs tried to hide from us. The Soviets did not want an Islamist regime at their border, infecting their Central Asian republics with Islamist rebellion. Contrary to the Cold War myth we were taught, the Soviets did not "invade" Afghanistan until after the US started arming and funding the Islamists in their fight against the Afghan government. And when they DID come in, they blamed the Karzai of the time for having been so incompetent and brutal that they turned him over to a more moderate faction of the government, which executed him in an effort to appease the resistance and demonstrate to the people a change of policy.

on March 15,2012 | 09:48AM
Kapakahi wrote:

The Soviets supported the education of women, the elimination of the child brides, expansion of schools and medical clinics into the countryside. You know, "modernization." The Islamist fighters killed the teachers, the doctors, the collaborators, the occasional Soviet soldier they could find. In frustration, the Soviets slowly ratcheted up the repression, driving even more of the population into sympathy for the resistance. The whole debacle ending with the Red Army withdrawing under fire as they headed towards the border.

We will be very lucky if the same thing does not happen to us. Obama appears to be aware of this history and determined not to repeat it. A large portion of the military brass have too much invested, emotionally and professionally, in remaining in Afghanistan until "victory." In compromise with this group, Obama agreed to the surge and allowed Generals Petraeus and McChrystal a chance to give it their best shot. Politically, Obama did not want to be attacked from the right for having "lost Afghanistan" and betraying those who have given their lives in battle. But the time as come to get out as quickly and safely as we can. There WILL be chaos and mass suffering after we withdraw. Karzai will probably escape. The Afghan people, not so much.

The white collar criminals in the US foreign policy establishment who got us into this mess will also escape, with many returning to future government jobs or high-paying jobs in the private sector. Much like the Wall Street bankers who caused the catastrophic collapse of the financial system and real estate market and escaped with huge bonuses. The elite takes care of its own.

on March 15,2012 | 09:50AM
HD36 wrote:
Take the rare earth metals and the opium for compensation and get the hell out.
on March 15,2012 | 10:57AM
saveparadise wrote:
The killer should be turned over and tried by the Afghans. It must be made clear that the crime he committed does not represent our military nor our country. It's time to get the rest of our brave men and women out of a country we do not belong in.
on March 15,2012 | 01:59PM
Halemaumau wrote:
You've got to be kidding me? The soldier that shot up the place was there because his government wanted him there. I don't agree with his actions but throwing him to the dogs is not how you look after your own. Who's to say that YOU wouldn't go over the deep end and do the same?
on March 15,2012 | 03:49PM
SteveToo wrote:
We can fight and defeat any army anywhere. But we can't win over a third world population living in the dark ages. Their religion will keep them living in the dark ages so what the hell are we doing there? It's a NO-WIN situation.
on March 15,2012 | 03:51PM
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