The White House hit back hard Monday at Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai's charge that a recent spate of deadly bombings blamed on the Taliban in his country were actually “in service of America” and designed to justify a longer U.S. military presence.
“Nobody believes it,” Jay Carney, President Barack Obama’s press secretary, told reporters.
“Any suggestion the United States is colluding with the Taliban is categorically false,” Carney emphasized. “The United States has spent enormous blood and treasure for the past 12 years supporting the Afghan people ... in the effort to ensure stability and security in that country. The last thing we would do is support any kind of violence, particularly involving innocent civilians.”
Karzai’s charge came as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made his first visit to the war-torn country last week since taking over the Pentagon.
The volatile Afghan leader pointed to bombings in Kabul and and the city of Khost that killed 17 people and declared that the attacks “were not a show of force to America. They were in service of America.”
“It was in the service of the 2014 slogan to warn us if they (Americans) are not here, then Taliban will come," Karzai said in a speech on Sunday. "In fact those bombs, set off yesterday in the name of the Taliban, were in the service of Americans to keep foreigners longer in Afghanistan."
Obama's NATO-backed strategy calls for American and NATO troops to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014—but potentially leaving behind a residual force to carry out counterterrorism strikes and to train Afghan forces. Whether such a force remains will hinge on negotiations with Karzai that could turn on whether the Afghan government will grant U.S. troops immunity from local prosecution. U.S. officials say Obama won't leave troops there unless that is part of the final deal.
Karzai's comments were hardly his first foray into controversy. In December, he blamed Afghanistan's struggles with corruption on the flood of American money.
His remarks on Sunday drew a rebuke from the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford.
"We have fought too hard over the past 12 years. We have shed too much blood over the past 12 years. We have done too much to help the Afghan Security Forces grow over the last 12 years to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage," Dunford told reporters.
"President Karzai has never said to me that the United States was colluding with the Taliban. So I don't know what caused him to say that today. All I can do is speak for the coalition to tell you that it's categorically false, that we have no reason to be colluding with the Taliban. We have no reason to be supporting instability in Afghanistan," Dunford said. "And all that we have been about over the past 12 years is to bring peace and stability to the Afghan people so that they can take advantage of the decade of opportunity that will follow 2014. That's what we're all about."