The White House sought to ease tensions with Hamid Karzai on Tuesday, promising to gradually give Afghans greater control over Special Operations missions that the Afghan president has sharply criticized. Washington hopes to smooth over differences with Mr. Karzai and present a united front at a NATO conference this weekend in Lisbon, where coalition leaders are expected to endorse a plan that sets the goal of handing over security control to the Afghans by the end of 2014. In recent months, Special Operations raids have assumed a higher profile, with U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization military officials in Afghanistan touting the number of insurgent leaders who have been killed or captured, and saying the missions are a critical part of the war strategy. But the raids, mostly at night, have long been a sore point with Mr. Karzai because of concerns about civilian casualties. The Afghan leader, in an interview with the Washington Post this past weekend, called for an end to raids by Special Operations forces, spotlighting tensions between the U.S. and Afghanistan on how to conduct the war. U.S. officials have rejected calls to halt the raids. But in a news briefing Tuesday, administration officials sought to play down the rift with the Afghan government as temporary. "As Afghan special forces capacity increases, we'd expect to transition from what is today a predominantly international special operations forces role to one that's increasingly Afghan," White House Afghanistan adviser Douglas Lute told reporters. It is unlikely, however, that the U.S. will completely abandon unilateral Special Operations missions in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates separately sought to ease tensions with the Afghan government on Tuesday, highlighting that all Special Operations raids were done in partnership with Afghan commandos. Speaking at The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council in Washington, Mr. Gates said that "we will continue to work with him [Mr. Karzai] as a good partner." NATO military officials in Kabul have been frustrated by Mr. Karzai's public comments. But officials said they weren't surprised by the comments, noting that the Afghan president has made similar demands in private. They also stressed that Mr. Karzai remained the U.S.'s primary partner in Afghanistan. "Look, none of this helps any of us," said a senior NATO officer in Kabul. "But does it mean we're going to stop working with him? Of course not. He's the president." As part of the Lisbon summit, allied leaders are expected to review detailed NATO timelines for handing over control of various Afghan provinces and districts between early next year and the end of 2014. Presenting a broad agreement on the path forward in Afghanistan, both with the Karzai government and among the NATO allies, is critical for President Barack Obama, who plans to begin drawing down troops in July 2011. American officials have been working behind the scenes to try to prevent any members of the alliance from pulling out of Afghanistan completely. White House officials praised an announcement by Canada on Tuesday that it would continue to deploy trainers to Afghanistan, even after its combat role ends next year. The Canadian government said it would field 950 trainers and support personnel in Afghanistan until 2014. The U.S. also hopes the Dutch government will follow Canada's lead and pledge to send some trainers to Afghanistan. The Netherlands withdrew its combat troops in August of this year.(The Wall Street Journal)