NATO official: Afghan leader affirms NATO mission

WASHINGTON (AP) — After a newspaper interview in which he was critical of U.S. operations, Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with the top U.S. commander and said he supported NATO’s military campaign and, reluctantly, its nighttime special operations raids, a senior NATO official said Wednesday.

The hourlong meeting in Kabul between Karzai and Gen. David Petraeus, the senior NATO commander in Afghanistan, helped smooth over the controversy that followed the interview, said the official, who was among those briefed on the meeting. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the high-level discussion.

Karzai and his staff could not immediately be reached for comment. The episode shows how the Afghan president is often torn between two audiences, the Afghan people and the country’s Western allies, sometimes denouncing to Afghans the very activities that NATO officials say he agrees to in private.

Karzai stunned U.S. officials on Saturday when he said in an interview with The Washington Post that NATO should reduce the visibility and intensity of its military operations. He also told the Post that NATO should end the increased Special Operations forces night raids that aggravate Afghans and could strengthen the Taliban insurgency.

In the meeting with Petraeus, Karzai said he did not mean to offend the NATO alliance in the Post interview but was simply affirming his commitment to taking full responsibility for Afghanistan’s security by the target date of 2014, the NATO official said.

The Afghan leader told Petraeus that he will publicly support NATO actions at the upcoming NATO summit in Lisbon this weekend, the official said. He also agreed to give Petraeus and his staff a look at his Lisbon speech in advance as a courtesy, the official said.

During the meeting, the Afghan leader agreed that the special-operations raids should continue, although he seemed reluctant, said the official.

Petraeus had asked Karzai to approve night raids to help keep the Taliban off balance, as NATO tries to establish security and governance across Afghanistan, the official said. Western officials believe that the raids are politically difficult for Karzai to endorse publicly because they are an affront to Afghan culture, the official said.

Special operations raids have tripled over the past year. U.S. officials say they have begun to weaken some elements of the Taliban and other militant networks in Afghanistan, frustrating Taliban leaders’ ability to receive orders and weapons from their leadership in neighboring Pakistan. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss matters of intelligence.

In Wednesday’s meeting, the senior NATO official said, Petraeus briefed Karzai on the success of recent raids and reminded him of the changes made this past year to how those raids are carried out.

Afghan forces take the lead on every night operation, the official said. Afghan forces also stay behind after the raid to meet with local leaders, elders and family members to explain what happened, who was arrested and why.

In answer to Karzai’s complaints that the raids cause civilian casualties, Petraeus pointed out that slightly more than 1 percent of all missions cause such casualties, the official said. Petraeus also said that in more than 80 percent of those operations not a single shot is fired, according to the official.

The NATO official said Karzai has only realized recently just how embedded his Afghan security forces are in the special-operations teams that conduct the missions. The number of Afghan special-operations troops participating in each mission has grown to an average of seven on every operation, the official said, almost double from last summer.

NATO officials have reassured Karzai that senior Afghan officers from the ministries of interior, defense and intelligence are part of operational planning for night operations and regularly provide advice on how to conduct them.

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