LIMA (AFP/Reuters) - US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday voiced frustration at Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the latter’s preference to ‘criticise’ American troops, instead of acknowledging the sacrifices they made.
The angry riposte came after Karzai said on Thursday that the United States was failing to go after militants based in Pakistan, another charge that Panetta chose to hit back at.
“We have made progress in Afghanistan because there are men and women in uniform who are willing to fight and die for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and their right to govern and secure themselves,” Panetta said. “We’ve lost over 2,000 US men and women, Isaf has lost forces there and the Afghans have lost a large number of their forces in battle.
“Those lives were lost fighting the right enemy, not the wrong enemy. And I think it would be helpful if the president, every once in a while, expressed his thanks for the sacrifices that have been made by those who have fought and died for Afghanistan rather than criticise.” Progress in Afghanistan has cost thousands of military lives and it would be helpful if Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed gratitude for that sacrifice, Panetta said.
Panetta’s remarks came on a trip that will take him to Peru for bilateral security talks and then to Uruguay for a meeting of defense ministers from across the Americas. Panetta then will travel to Belgium for NATO talks on Afghanistan and other issues.
Panetta said he would assure Nato partners that US General John Allen, the head of international forces in Afghanistan, was working with Afghans to address the problem of insider attacks and that it was important to stick with Allen’s plans for drawing down forces in the country by 2014.
“My goal is to make clear to Nato and to our allies that we are taking all steps necessary to confront this issue and that it should not be allowed to deter us from the plan that General Allen put in place,” Panetta said.
The US defense secretary said the recent collapse in the value of Iran’s currency and unrest in that country showed that the economic sanctions imposed over Tehran’s nuclear program were beginning to have an impact.
“The whole purpose of applying the sanctions has been to put pressure on the regime in Iran to come to the table and negotiate our concern with regards to their nuclear program,” he said.
“I think the fact that there are these demonstrations reflects that people are feeling the impact,” Panetta added. “I would hope that the combination of all of this would convince the regime and the government there to engage in serious negotiations.”
Asked about the anger from Syrian rebels over the failure of the West to intervene more aggressively in their effort to topple President Bashar al-Assad, Panetta said the conflict was “difficult and it’s challenging.”
He said the United States was providing non-lethal help and working with other countries in the region that are providing lethal assistance to the rebels.
“We have got to continue the international effort to do everything we can to try to make sure that Assad steps down,” Panetta said, “and I think ultimately that they will recognize that the United States is doing everything we can to try to assist them in this effort.”
The outburst was rare for Panetta and the remarks come as relations between the United States and Afghanistan come under strain in the wake of several deadly and high-profile attacks on American troops by their local comrades.
In Afghanistan, the United States has also seen its image tarnished among ordinary Afghans this year by the burning of Qurans at a military base, the abuse of corpses and a massacre of civilians by a rogue American soldier.
An unprecedented number of Afghan security personnel have turned their weapons against their allies, killing at least 51 Nato soldiers this year.
Despite this, many Afghans, particularly in the cities, fear the departure of the Western troops in 2014 from a country where the government of Karzai is widely seen as corrupt and dependent on foreign support.