WASHINGTON - Expressing “extreme anger” toward the US government, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in an interview with the Washington Post that the war in Afghanistan was not fought with his country’s interests in mind.
“Afghans died in a war that’s not ours,’ Karzai said in the interview published on Sunday, just a month before an election to pick his successor.
He was quoted as saying he was certain the 12-year-old war, America’s longest and launched after the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, was “for the US security and for the Western interest.”
Karzai’s refusal to sign a security deal with Washington that would permit foreign troops to stay in Afghanistan beyond this year has frustrated the White House, and President Barack Obama has told the Pentagon to prepare for the possibility that no US troops will be left in Afghanistan after 2014.
Obama told Karzai in a phone call on Tuesday he had given the order to the Pentagon. The phone call was the first substantive discussion between the two leaders since June. But staking out a new position, the White House said in a statement it would leave open the possibility of concluding the bilateral security agreement later this year.
“It’s good for them to sign it with my successor,” Karzai told the Post. He has insisted the United States must jump-start peace talks with Taliban insurgents and end raids and strikes on Afghan homes before he signs the deal.
The NATO-led force in Afghanistan has a current strength of more than 52,000 soldiers, including 33,600 US troops. More than 3,400 coalition forces have been killed in the fight against the Taliban, including more than 2,300 US troops.
While Afghanistan’s police and army are seen as having made big strides in their ability to fight militants, doubts remain about whether they can keep a still-potent Taliban at bay, especially in remote areas.
In the interview, the Afghan leader said he was deeply troubled by the war’s casualties, including those in US military operations, and felt betrayed by what he described as an insufficient US focus on going after Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan rather than in Afghan villages.
Civilian casualties in Afghanistan dissipated his country’s “common cause” with the United States, Karzai told the newspaper. Criticizing his US allies was the only way to secure a response by Washington to his concerns, he added. The Post said Karzai told his interviewers as he escorted them out of his office on Saturday night: “To the American people, give them my best wishes and my gratitude. To the US government, give them my anger, my extreme anger.”
Meanwhile, at least 13,700 members of the Afghan security forces have died in fighting over the last 10 years - nearly four every day - according to new figures on government compensation paid to victims’ families.
The grim death toll in the fight against Taliban-led insurgents was revealed by the Office of Administrative Affairs (OAA), the secretarial department that collates information for President Hamid Karzai and the cabinet.
The OAA said that 13,729 families of security force personnel had been awarded financial support after suffering a fatality, while another 16,511 families were compensated after a relative was wounded.
“Every family that has received assistance represents a martyr,” Sayed Jawad Jawed, director of public affairs at the OAA, told AFP on Monday.
“We can’t say that this is the total number of casualties as we don’t have those figures,” he added. “These figures represent the number of families of the martyrs assisted by the government, and the same with those wounded.”
The death toll among Afghan security forces has rapidly increased in recent years as they take over responsibility for fighting insurgents from US-led NATO troops, but exact casualty rates have been hotly disputed.
US officials said that at the height of last year’s “fighting season” more than 400 army and police were being killed in action every month.
The Afghan government does not normally release figures to avoid damaging public morale.
The OAA said that 12,336 families had also received compensation for losing a civilian relative in the war over the last 10 years, but the total number of civilian casualties is likely to be much higher.
According to a UN report released last month, the conflict has claimed the lives of 14,064 civilians in the last five years alone.
The UN attributes the vast majority of civilian deaths and injuries to “anti-government elements” led by the Taliban.
All 55,000 US-led combat troops still in Afghanistan will leave by December, but a small force may be deployed from 2015 on a training and counter-terrorism operation.
In the latest major attack on Afghan forces, 21 soldiers died in an assault in the eastern province of Kunar one week ago.
“Afghanistan supports the families of the martyrs and wounded, military and civilians, as a religious, national and official duty of the government,” the OAA said in a statement.