Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was “stunned” at a report that Afghan President Hamid Karzai wants the U.S. to scale back operations in his country.
Karzai, in an interview with the Washington Post published today, called for an end to night raids by U.S. Special Operations units searching Afghan homes for insurgents, saying the missions anger citizens and may help the Taliban win more recruits.
Graham said today on ABC’s “This Week” that the issue never arose when he and Karzai met at a recent dinner also attended by General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to the country. He didn’t say when the meeting took place.
“We talked about, quite frankly, looking long term with Afghanistan about having two air bases in a permanent fashion in Afghanistan to provide stability,” Graham said. “There was no discussion about a difference between Petraeus and Karzai in terms of strategy.”
Karzai has criticized U.S. and NATO military operations in the past that resulted in civilian casualties.
“The raids are a problem always,” Karzai told the Post. “They were a problem then, they are a problem now. They have to go away. The Afghan people don’t like these raids, if there is any raid it has to be done by the Afghan government within the Afghan laws. This is a continuing disagreement between us.”
American military commanders contend the nighttime strikes are critical to capturing Taliban leaders and weakening the insurgency, the newspaper said. Graham said stopping them would be “a big loss in terms of gaining security.”
“The Petraeus strategy must be allowed to go forward for us to be successful,” the South Carolina Republican said. “The security gains are obvious. We’re not there yet, but we’re moving in the right direction, and to take the night raids off the table would be a disaster.”
Karzai’s statements are “a fundamental disconnect between his assessment of where the country’s going and the assessment of Gen. Petraeus,” said Stephanie Sanok, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Sanok said Karzai is asking for more than he expects to get to push for increased influence over U.S. policy in the country.
“I don’t think he’ll get veto authority,” she said, predicting Karzai may become “better informed and part of the decision-making process.”
Sanok, a security analyst based in Washington, said she is “disturbed” by Karzai’s demand for an end to night raids that have been effective in the “past couple months.”
“If we ended or significantly cut back on the night raids, I’m not sure that the goodwill it buys counteracts” the loss of effectiveness, she said.
Karzai also said the U.S. should stick to a plan to lower its troop levels beginning in July 2011, saying “the time has come to reduce military operations” and “the intrusiveness into the daily Afghan life.”
Graham said some troop reduction will occur in 2011, though there will need to be “a substantial number of troops in Afghanistan” until 2014. He said it also “will be great to have a couple of air bases there in perpetuity to help the Afghans to send the right signal to the regions.”
He said the Afghan government needs to do more to reduce corruption.
Karzai told the Post that the corruption has been caused by the billions of American dollars being sent to independent contractors who aren’t answerable to the government’s ministries.