Taliban and Karzai blow US hopes in Afghanistan

Taliban and Karzai blow US hopes in Afghanistan

Taliban and Karzai blow US hopes in Afghanistan

US Defense Secretary Panetta (L) leans forward during a meeting with Afghan President Karzai in Kabul. Karzai calls on NATO troops to leave Afghan villages. AFP photo

Striking major blows to the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, the Taliban suspended its nascent peace talks with the U.S. yesterday and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, angered by a U.S. soldier’s killing of 16 civilians March 11, ordered U.S. troops out of Afghan villages, demanding that security be transitioned from NATO control in 2013, a year ahead of schedule.

The announcements from the Taliban and Karzai came just days after a shooting spree by an American soldier killed 16 Afghan civilians. The fallout overshadowed a two-day visit to Afghanistan by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that had been aimed at soothing anger over March 11’s massacre and last month’s Quran-burning incident at a U.S. base. The Taliban made no mention of the killings as it announced the suspension of contacts with U.S. officials in Qatar to discuss a prisoner swap -- talks that had built up hopes of a political solution to the war in Afghanistan before U.S. troops leave in 2014. “It was due to their alternating and ever-changing position that the Islamic Emirate was compelled to suspend all dialogue with the Americans,” the Taliban said on its website. U.S. and Taliban negotiators were believed to have had made preliminary contacts aimed at establishing an office for the Taliban in the Gulf state of Qatar to launch peace negotiations.

‘We are ready’
In Kabul, Panetta and Karzai reported radically different versions of the conversation, after the Americans insisted that recent events would not lead U.S.-led NATO combat troops to withdraw earlier than scheduled in 2014.

However, Karzai’s spokesman Aimal Faizi quoted Karzai as telling Panetta: “We’re ready to take over all security responsibilities now … We’d prefer that the process be completed in 2013, not 2014,” he told Agence France-Presse.

Karzai then told Panetta that the U.S.-led international forces should “be withdrawn from villages and relocated to their bases,” his office said. It was not immediately clear how many American bases may be affected by Karzai’s demand, as the U.S. previously disbanded a number of outposts in an attempt to concentrate on securing major towns from Taliban influence. The U.S. defense chief said he was optimistic that both sides would reach an agreement on controversial night raids - a major issue blocking the treaty - ahead of a NATO summit in Chicago in May.

Turkey’s concern
Panetta said he promised Karzai that the gunman in the March 11 incident would be brought to justice, and that the Pentagon would look into what circumstances may have caused the incident. The soldier, 38, who has not been named, was flown to Kuwait on the night of March 14, while Afghans were demanding he be tried in the country.

Meanwhile, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on March 14 that Turkey felt sorry about the event. The ministry offered its condolences to the relatives of the victims. Turkey expects the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to conclude its investigation quickly and bring those responsible to justice, as well as taking the necessary steps to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future, the ministry said, Anatolia news agency reported.