South Asia Features
NATO faces political wrangling as casualties rise (News Feature)
By Farhad Peikar Jun 22, 2010, 14:45 GMT
Kabul - Frictions among the NATO alliance emerged Tuesday when the top US general was called to the White House and Britain's envoy to Afghanistan reportedly extended his leave over policy disagreements with military officials.
The infighting among military officials worsened as preparations are being made for a major offensive in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar, and Western casualties have risen sharply.
A magazine article leaked to media ahead of publication Friday quoted US General Stanley McChrystal as criticizing top officials in President Barack Obama's administration.
McChrystal, who commands more than 130,000 US soldiers and troops from 43 other NATO and non-NATO countries, quickly apologized.
'I extend my sincerest apology for this profile,' McChrytsal said in a statement issued by his office in Kabul. 'It was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should never have happened.'
He also said he had 'enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team.'
The Rolling Stone magazine article reportedly quoted McChrystal as denouncing US Vice President Joe Biden and US special envoy to the region Richard Holbrooke for doubts about his war strategy.
The general also denounced US Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl Eikenberry for an internal memo expressing disagreement with the general's request for extra troops.
Despite Washington's swift move to summon the commander to explain his comments, NATO headquarters in Brussels hurried to give its backing to McChrystal.
'The Rolling Stone article is rather unfortunate, but it is just an article. We are in the middle of a very real conflict, and the Secretary General has full confidence in General McChrystal as the NATO commander, and in his strategy,' a NATO spokesman said.
The British government also announced that its special envoy to Afghanistan, Sherard Cowper-Coles, was taking 'extended leave.'
The Guardian newspaper reported on Tuesday that Cowper-Coles had recently quarreled with US and other NATO officials over his belief that the military surge against the insurgents was not working, and instead insisted on pursuing talks with the Taliban.
The political crisis within the alliance was revealed ahead of a major international conference in Kabul next month, to which foreign ministers of Afghanistan's donor countries are invited by President Hamid Karzai and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
It also comes as NATO casualties are on the rise. Ten soldiers were killed on Monday, taking the total number of Western troops killed in the country to 65 so far in June, already the alliance's deadliest month of 2010.
NATO troops are increasingly falling victim to attacks during the rebels' spring offensive, as the alliance moves additional forces into traditional Taliban strongholds.
Thousands of US troops that are part of 30,000 additional US forces ordered by President Obama have already arrived. The total number of foreign troops is set to peak at 150,000 by August.
Obama's military surge is aimed at turning the tide of the war against the Taliban and transferring the security responsibility to Afghan forces before the US military's drawdown scheduled to start around July 2011.
But with the clock ticking for withdrawal of US forces, which make up two-thirds of all forces in the country, and friction among US military and civilian officials, there are doubts about whether the alliance can meet its deadline or ultimately win the long war.