More Grief From Karzai: Warns Delay in Prison Handover Could Harm Ties with U.S.

By Patrick Goodenough | March 14, 2013 | 4:46 AM EDT

Afghan President Hamid Karzai meets with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in Kabul on Sunday, March 10, 2013. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham is on their right. (Photo: DoD/Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo)

( – Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday warned that further delays in the handover of a U.S.-run detention center to Afghan control could harm bilateral relations, but opposition parties accuse Karzai himself of jeopardizing the ties, slamming his recent remarks alleging Taliban-U.S. collusion.

“This assertion from the president is against the national interest because it can push the country into new political crisis,” a coalition of 22 opposition parties said in a statement, according to the independent Pajhwok Afghan News agency.

“The president’s remarks are part of a series of deliberate actions that push Afghanistan toward disaster,” it added, insisting that the allegations did not represent the views of the people of Afghanistan.

Ahmad Zia Massoud, Karzai’s former vice president who now heads the opposition National Front, also criticized the comments, telling Tolo TV that “the U.S. has spent millions of dollars in the past 11 years in Afghanistan and its troops have been killed fighting against terrorism in the country.”

Karzai’s comments, alleging that the U.S. and Taliban were meeting secretly and colluding in violent attacks to justify a post-2014 U.S. presence in the country, came during Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s weekend visit.

Hagel told reporters after meeting with Karzai Sunday that he had addressed the claims “directly” during their talks – but he also expressed understanding.

“I know these are difficult issues for President Karzai and the Afghan people,” Hagel said. “And I was once a politician, so I can understand the kind of pressures that especially leaders of countries are always under.”

(In its account of the Karzai-Hagel meeting, Karzai’s office said, “Accepting mistakes made in the past years, U.S. Defense Secretary said that his country respected the national sovereignty of Afghanistan. He stressed that with experience of the past blunders, the two sides had to make efforts more than ever in further solidifying mutual relationship and trust.”)

International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander Gen. Joseph Dunford rejected the charges of collusion with the Taliban as “categorically false,” a comment echoed by White House press secretary Jay Carney during a press briefing Monday.

On Tuesday, Karzai repeated the allegations during a cabinet meeting in the south of the country, the independent Daily Outlook Afghanistan reported. The publication in an editorial called Karzai’s claims “inflammatory” and said the dispute “only benefits the insurgents.”

On Wednesday, Karzai met with Gen. Dunford to discuss the delayed handover of the Parwan detention facility, located at the U.S. military base at Bagram.

The transfer was to have taken place during Hagel’s visit, but ISAF said on Saturday that it was being delayed by several days, allowing time for some of the remaining technical details concerning the handover to be resolved.”

Wednesday’s meeting with Dunford was meant to iron out remaining “technicalities,” but it evidently did not. ISAF said afterwards the parties pledged to continue constructive dialogue to resolve the matter.

In its account of the meeting with Dunford, Karzai’s office urged a quick transfer.

“The president said that issues regarding the handover were final and thus any more delays could harm the bilateral relations,” it said in a statement.

Outstanding issues relate to the right of the U.S. to insist that detainees it considers a threat remain incarcerated. As agreed upon in a memorandum last March, the prisoner transfer should originally have taken place in September but did not, because of differences over how the Afghans would handle the prisoners.

The presidency’s statement said Karzai had reiterated “that all those who are innocent but still held in the prison should be released as per Afghan laws at the soonest,” while “those who pose a threat to the security of the country will remain in custody within Afghan laws.”

In a speech in southern Kandahar province on Tuesday, Karzai said he expected the Parwan handover to take place “by Saturday or Sunday next week.”

‘Insider’ attacks, troop morale and Karzai’s allegations

Seven U.S. soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Monday, more than doubling the death toll for this year so far.

Five of the seven died in a helicopter crash in Kandahar, while two special forces troops were shot dead in an “insider” attack carried out by an Afghan police officer in eastern Wardak province.

The attack in Wardak came one day after Karzai’s deadline expired for Special Forces to withdraw from the province. He gave that order late last month, following allegations of torture by Afghans working with the American troops.

It was the third insider or “green-on-blue” attack this year – a British soldier was killed by an Afghan soldier in Helmand province last January, and a civilian contractor was killed and four U.S. troops injured in a shooting carried out by Afghan soldiers at a military base in Kapisa province last week.

According to data compiled by the Long War Journal, insider attacks accounted for 61 fatalities in 2012 – 15 percent of all coalition deaths for the year.

During a press briefing on Monday, Pentagon spokesman George Little was asked whether Karzai’s recent allegations were having an effect on the morale of the 66,000 American troops still in Afghanistan.

“Is Secretary Hagel worried about the morale on the ground among U.S. troops who are there, over there trying to train the Afghan army and police, and yet they’re also hearing the same things that Karzai is telling his own people, which is that you’re working with the enemy?” a reporter asked.

“Any time there are allegations made that have no basis in facts, it can have an effect in many arenas, to include troop morale,” Little replied. “Of course the secretary would be worried about effects on morale, because of those claims or other factors.”

He added that when Hagel visited at the weekend, he saw firsthand “that our troops are deeply committed to this mission. They continue to take this fight to the enemy, and they appear to be unwavering in their dedication to the mission.”

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow