German General Egon Ramms, chief of operations of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, on Thursday accused Afghan President Hamid Karzai of failing to support NATO forces in the war against the Taliban.
Ramms said in an interview with the daily economic newspaper Handelsblatt that the president “looks at things from a point of view that, in no way, we can like.”
Karzai, speaking in Kabul, had said the strategy for Afghanistan needed a rethink and he criticized NATO for civilian deaths in the country.
Ramms reminded Karzai that NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan, had played an important role in ensuring his reelection as Afghan president in November last year.
“As a result he should decide whether he prefers the ISAF and troops from supporting nations, or the Taliban with whom he might want to work in future,” he said.
Ramms also accused local Afghan authorities of releasing on several occasions members of the Taliban arrested by coalition forces in the north of the country, where German troops are based.
In Kandahar yesterday, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with US soldiers in the Taliban’s heartland as a pivotal surge of 30,000 extra troops neared completion.
Gates was set to spend the day in southern Kandahar Province, one of the hottest spots of the intensifying war against the insurgents which is nearing the end of its ninth year.
He arrived in Kabul on Thursday on an unannounced trip, fresh from presiding over ceremonies in Baghdad marking the formal end to US combat engagement there after seven years.
Gates’ first stop was at a small NATO base outside Kandahar City that recently lost eight soldiers to insurgent violence.
“You all are clearly on the frontline,” he told the 100 US troops deployed there, part of the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, as they sat in a circle in front of their armored vehicles.
“This has been a very tough week for you all,” he said. “What makes a difference in this whole campaign is your success here in Kandahar City.”
Gates voiced support for Karzai’s plan to disband all private security companies by the end of the year, despite concerns among the military and civilians based in Afghanistan about an alternative source of security.
Karzai announced last month that the 52 security contractors in the country must disband by Jan. 1, freeing up resources for the national police and army, and removing what many see as private militias.
Answering a question from a soldier, Gates said: “We had a problem with uncontrolled private security companies in Iraq and it became a big issue with the Iraqis.”
“I think what President Karzai is trying to do is to get a handle on these people that have basically had free rein here in Afghanistan, including how they treat Afghan people,” he said.
In what appeared to signal the possibility that Karzai may roll back from the original deadline, he said: “President Karzai understands the need to keep some of these companies,” an apparent reference to the need to protect development projects.
Asked by another soldier if the US would be going after militant safe havens in Pakistan, where the leadership of the Taliban and other groups are believed to be based, Gates said: “The likelihood of US direct military engagement in Pakistan is very low.”