KABUL, (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s leaders, overlooked in the summary of a “brutally honest” U.S. war strategy review, did not offer any response to the long-awaited report on Friday in a sign of the often uneasy ties between Kabul and Washington.
The five-page summary of the two-month review, which did not mention Afghan President Hamid Karzai at all, was released on Thursday but has been criticised by Afghans and aid groups as overly optimistic.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s review found NATO-led forces were making headway against the Taliban but serious challenges remained. It said the insurgents’ momentum had been arrested in much of Afghanistan and reversed in some areas.
Karzai, Obama’s main ally in the war, was briefed about the contents of the review before the summary was released. While other Afghan politicians, aid groups and even the Taliban have criticised the report, Karzai remained steadfastly silent.
Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on a visit to Afghanistan, gave his support to Obama’s review. He said the review included a dissection of relations with Karzai but did not give any details.
Karzai was criticised as a weak and erratic leader in U.S. government cables released on the WikiLeaks website this month.
“I can tell you this, the review just conducted was thoroughly, even brutally, honest. We looked at all aspects of this struggle,” Mullen told a news conference in Kabul.
Before the review’s release, a statement from the presidential palace said Obama had telephoned Karzai to discuss the findings and the two leaders had agreed security had been improved in many areas but needed to be consolidated in others.
Karzai’s spokesmen did not respond to repeated emails and telephone calls on Friday.
Obama and Karzai have had a sometimes-tense relationship and critics accuse the Afghan president of failing to clamp down on corruption and improve governance.
Karzai also had a rocky relationship with Richard Holbrooke, Washington’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who died this week.
“TOO MUCH MILITARY FOCUS”
The flaws in Karzai’s government have been highlighted by critics as a major obstacle to ending the conflict, with a lack of justice for ordinary people eroding military gains, a report from think tank Chatham House said.
Afghan politicians and aid groups working in the country also warned Washington’s review had a narrow focus on military gains and did not substantively address some of the conflict’s drivers, including corruption and insurgent havens in Pakistan.
“There is always more pressure or more focus on the military side, while I think we forget the human part of life in Afghanistan which is delivering of services,” said Fawzia Kufi, an outspoken member of parliament
The review said the United States was on track to begin a gradual withdrawal of its troops – now numbering about 100,000 in a total foreign force of 150,000 – from July 2011, after a big military campaign in the Taliban’s southern heartland.
But it comes at the end of the bloodiest year since U.S.-backed Afghan forces ousted the Taliban in 2001, with almost 700 foreign soldiers killed, two-thirds of them American.
Civilian casualties are also at record levels and once relatively peaceful northern and western parts of the country are seeing increasing violence.
On Wednesday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a rare public statement worsening violence was making it harder than at any time in the past three decades – in during which the country saw the battle against Soviet occupation and a brutal civil war – for aid groups to reach those in need.
“We seem to be entering a more and more murky phase of the conflict,” ICRC spokesman Bijan Farnoudi said in Kabul.
The Taliban were also critical of the review on Friday, saying it ignored the reality of a spreading insurgency.
“The review is aimed at creating baseless hope among nations,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in an emailed statement, referring to countries with troops in Afghanistan.
“The substance of these schemes and strategies do not coincide with the ground realities in Afghanistan.”