KABUL (Reuters) - Washington has failed to address many of Afghanistan’s concerns, including civilian casualties and the need for reconciliation talks with the Taliban, in its war strategy review, the Afghan president’s office said on Monday.
A five-page summary of the non-classified sections of the two-month review was released last Thursday, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was not mentioned at all in the public documents, has yet to respond in person.
On Monday, his chief spokesman detailed a list of concerns and provided only guarded support for U.S. President Barack Obama’s review of the war, which is now in its 10th year.
The review found NATO-led forces were making headway against the Taliban but serious challenges remained. It said the insurgents’ momentum had been contained in much of Afghanistan and reversed in some areas.
Spokesman Waheed Omer said Kabul supported a large part of the strategy, but added attention had not been paid elsewhere.
Omer included several longstanding Afghan concerns, including civilian casualties, while foreign troops hunt insurgents, and the need for Washington’s “honest backing” for talks with the Taliban to bring the war to an end.
He did not elaborate about what kind of support Washington could provide for Karzai’s peace plans, which include talks with the Taliban and reintegrating insurgent “foot soldiers”.
“We are hopeful that serious attention will be paid to these points in future,” Omer told a news conference.
Karzai’s government has been speaking to the Taliban for at least two years, although nothing substantial has been discussed.
A flurry of media reports since October reignited interest in the talks, although officials from all sides have since said the discussions are little more than making contact, or “talks about talks”. In one case, a reported Taliban “leader” who met Karzai and other officials was later acknowledged to be an impostor.
Karzai was briefed by the U.S. president about the contents of the review before the summary was released.
Other issues that Omer said Karzai’s government remained concerned about were the use of “night raids” by foreign forces to capture or kill insurgents and the use of “parallel” international structures to existing Afghan institutions.
Other proposals were focused on economic and reconstruction projects, as well as equipping Afghan security forces being groomed to take over from foreign troops by the end of 2014.
Ties between Karzai and his Western backers have often been uneasy, particularly over civilian casualties caused by foreign troops and over election fraud and Western concerns that Karzai’s government is riddled with corruption.
Washington argues that corruption weakens the government’s control and makes it harder to build state institutions like the security forces so that foreign forces can eventually leave.
NATO leaders agreed at a summit to accept Karzai’s ambitious target for Afghan security forces to assume security responsibility by the end of 2014. Obama has pledged to begin a gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from July 2011.
Washington’s review said the United States was on track to meet that target, even though violence is at its worst across Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
Military and civilian casualties are at record levels despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops, two-thirds of them Americans. More than 700 foreign troops have been killed this year alone, by far the deadliest year of the war.
Echoing the review’s public findings, Omer said the recent military successes it noted were “fragile and reversible” and said the focus in the future should be on economic development. (Editing by Paul Tait and Ron Popeski)