US general defends Karzai

Former U.S. commander in Afghanistan Gen. John Allen offered a defense on Monday of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose inflammatory rhetoric has been repeatedly criticized by lawmakers and the Obama administration.

Allen said that Karzai has “the hardest job on the planet,” citing a phrase from former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker, because he must balance domestic, regional and international politics amid the decade-long Afghanistan war.

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Speaking at a Brookings Institution forum Monday, Allen said that it was important to keep in context Karzai’s rhetoric and to understand why he says the things he does. “Sometimes that rhetoric is harsh,” said Allen, who stepped down as U.S. commander in Afghanistan earlier this month. “We don’t have to agree with it, we don’t have to condone it, we don’t have to like it.”

The latest statement from Karzai that U.S. lawmakers did not like came two weeks ago, when Karzai accused U.S. and coalition forces of colluding with Taliban leaders to undercut his hold on power in the country.

Karzai has frequently frustrated U.S. lawmakers and the White House, such as with his recent demand that U.S. special operations forces leave Wardak province. Some lawmakers say that Karzai is one of the major obstacles to a successful post-2014 transition in Afghanistan, when NATO forces are set to hand-off power to the Afghans.

Allen made clear while talking about Karzai that he disagreed with many of the Afghan leader’s comments and actions.  “We don’t have to like him and can even condemn him,” Allen said.

But Allen also noted that he developed a strong personal relationship with Karzai during his 19 months as head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), where Karzai showed his commitment to the overall campaign. He talked about Karzai’s reaction to difficult incidents last year, such as the Marine urination video, the burning of Qurans and a spike in insider attacks.

Allen also told an anecdote about receiving a call from Karzai while in the United States when Karzai learned that Allen’s mother had died, which had occurred when Allen was still in Afghanistan.

Karzai asked why Allen didn’t tell him while he was there, Allen said.

“Mr. president, you carry the weight of world on your shoulders for your people. I didn’t want to add to your burden,” Allen said he told the Afghan leader.

As to the suggesting that the United States was colluding with the Taliban, Allen said that Karzai was just wrong.

“If in fact the president truly does believe the U.S. is colluding with the Taliban, I’m here to tell you I would know — and we ain't,” Allen said. “And we don’t intend to.”