Former ambassador: Karzai comments highlight growing frustration
Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad
March 7th, 2011
01:32 PM ET

Former ambassador: Karzai comments highlight growing frustration

On Sunday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told U.S. and NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus that his apology after nine children died in a NATO air strike was not enough.

What does this hold for Afghan-U.S. relations?  I called former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan under the second President Bush, Zalmay Khalilzad to talk it through. Ambassador Khalilzad also served as Ambassador to Iraq and as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Bakshi: What is the significance of Karzai telling Petraeus that apologies are not enough?

Khalilzad: There are some in the press saying he [Karzai] rejected the apology. I didn’t read the statement that way. He said it wasn’t enough, implying there is a need for action to be sure this sort of thing does not happen. I would have liked, of course, for him also to recognize that two-third of the civilian causalities in Afghanistan take place because of the Taliban.

Bakshi: So is this a significant difference in tone or is this Karzai just reemphasizing frustration?

Khalilzad: I don’t think this is a qualitative change. I think it is maybe added frustration since it has been going on for a long time.

I remember the second day I had arrived as Ambassador in Kabul, [there was] an incident in which school children had been killed. We had some A-10s operating against a target that had been identified as a terrorist target but nearby some schoolchildren were in a class under a tree and they had been killed. This was 2003.

We need to recognize, and I think we probably do, that this has become a political issue – that frustration among the people is on the rise and that we need to look at ways some of the tactics can change without increasing the risk to the U.S. and minimizing the effect of the operations against the terrorists. [For example, we need to look at] whether less reliance on air [power] can be safely carried out.

Bakshi: Is this a statement on the strength of the relationship between the U.S. and Afghanistan?

Khalilzad: I think it is a problem in the relationship. It’s not atypical though when you have a foreign force and a local government – sometimes they differ on a variety of issues. In Iraq, for example, Prime Minister Maliki wanted more say in the operations that were carried out. That was at some point an issue and at another point we welcomed it. He wanted to assert leadership and that was good.

There is the question of whether there can be a joint operating cell [in Afghanistan] – if that doesn’t exist. Can it be done in away that doest jeopardize the security of operations? This is a significant issue in the relationship. But there is recognition on both sides that Afghanistan needs the coalition forces and coalition forces are operating there at the request of the Afghans under the UN mandate. They are making huge sacrifices in terms of lives and resources.

Sometimes the Afghan appreciation – when the focus in on civilian losses – doesn’t come across and sometimes this has a negative impact back in the U.S. People think they [the Afghans] are not grateful enough for the sacrifices being made.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Q&A • United States

soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. Jal Mian

    Karzai is USA toyboy in Afghanistan. Hence, I do not understand this discussion. Perhaps it means that USA is trying to fool the World into believing that Afghanistan is not an invaded country and that Karzai is not a USA puppet-appointee.

    March 7, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Reply
    • Qdilse

      The U.S. is trying to do precisely that,Jal Mian. Anybody with half a brain knows the we,along with British and French are there to exploit Afghanistan's mineral resources and to build an invisible empire. Hamid Karzai has to take orders from the U.S. as he has no choice.

      March 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Reply
  2. Sara

    If Americans had a vote we would be out of that country. The citizens of American have no say in what our country does militarily. We voted in a Democratic President and that does not seem to have make a difference. We the people are free to speak our minds but powerless to do anything about it.

    March 8, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  3. Kabuli

    Why should we listen to Khalilzad? No one in the US embassy in Kabul does? He had his chance and fared poorly, recall?

    March 8, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  4. Canadian eh

    I am a non-supporter of Patreaus in Afghanistan. He has no sympathy for the suffering of the Afghans and his rhertoric is strictly from some guy sitting in Washington, who has no idea of what is going on there. Killing of innocent children is unacceptable. Trigger happy soldiers is also unacceptable. Saying your sorry is not enough. You are there to help the Afghan people to rid themselves of the Taliban, but they keep coming in the back door now that Pakistan is no longer a place of safety for them. Only cowards use children as a means to end.

    As a human being, I am heartbroken that, once again, children pay the price of war with their lives. It is all they have ever known.

    War is not the answer, but MEN always will try to prove to each other how much more manly they are and they don't give a damn about the loss of child. In their mind there is always another girl to get pregnant and voila, another child, what are you complaining about.

    March 9, 2011 at 11:24 am | Reply
  5. Globe2020

    This has been part of the poor US strategies since the beginning of the war. Thinking that the they (US) have the peopler support in the north they did bombarded the south heavily and with carelessness as a result of that based on the human rights activist reports fourteen thousand ancient civilians have lost their lives since 2001. There has been a lot of corruption and mistakes from the previous US administration that makes this war difficult and almost impossible to turn around.

    March 9, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Reply
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    July 11, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Reply

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