- Afghan president Karzai hits out at NATO, branding its work futile
- Says NATO’s war on terror has resulted in ‘suffering and loss of lives’
- Former Secretary-General calls Karzai’s NATO critique unfair
- Others brand Karzai ‘very weak’ and ‘out of touch with Afghan people
Families of British troops killed and maimed in Afghanistan were furious last night after its leader dismissed Nato’s campaign as a pointless failure.
President Hamid Karzai said Britain and the US had done little more than cause ‘suffering, loss of life and no gains’. He added that Britain had paid a high price in ‘blood and treasure’ fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The conflict has claimed the lives of 444 UK servicemen and women and 2,270 US troops.
In an interview to mark six months before he leaves office, he said: ‘The entire Nato exercise was one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life and no gains because the country is not secure.’
He accused Nato of focusing on Afghan villages rather than Taliban and Al Qaeda ‘sanctuaries and training grounds’ in Pakistan and also attacked air strikes as a ‘violation’ of sovereignty.
Elaine Bell, from Bradford, whose son Martin, 24, was awarded a George Medal after he was killed by an IED while trying to save a colleague in January 2011, said: ‘For him to make these flippant comments will for lots of families be deeply upsetting. We sleep safer in our beds because of the bravery of our soldiers.’
Helena Tym, from Reading, whose son Cyrus Thatcher, 19, was killed by a roadside bomb while with 2nd Battalion the Rifles, said: ‘I suppose Cyrus and the British Army felt it was for the good of the Afghan people to go out there and fight a war.’
Karzai was installed in 2001 after allies drove the Taliban from power and he agreed that they should continue fighting.
Responding to Saturday’s airstrike in Nangarhar province, where the Karzai government claim five civilians were killed, he attacked the military coalition’s actions in Afghanistan.
‘They commit their violations against our sovereignty and conduct raids against our people, air raids and other attacks in the name of the fight on terrorism and in the name of the resolutions of the United Nations. This is against our wishes,’ Karzai said.
In the interview he also accused NATO on focusing their war against terrorism on Afghan villages instead of Taliban and al-Qaeda bases in neighbouring Pakistan.
Following his attack on the organisation, NATO’s former Secretary-General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, hit back at Karzai’s critique, calling it ‘unfair’ to the soldiers who have lost their lives to protect a country not their own.
‘It’s unfair to all those NATO soldiers who lost their lives. It’s unfair to Great Britain, responsible for one of the most – if not the most – complicated part of Afghanistan, Helmand, where I’ve been many times and where I’ve seen them and learned to appreciate very much what they’ve done.
‘So now, at the end of the day, to say this was all a failure is unfair and I very much disagree with the statement he’s making,’ Mr de Hoop Scheffer, who headed the organisation for five years until 2009, said.
Michael Semple, former deputy to the European Union special representative for Afghanistan said Karzai’s comments show that he is ‘out of touch with many of the people in Afghanistan’.
‘Perhaps he believes it, but when I talk to Afghans, they tend to be polite, they’re well aware of the sacrifices that have been involved in the international mission in Afghanistan – they prefer to say thank you and they feel rather appalled at the prospect of somebody saying: “No, that didn’t work at all, terrible disaster.”‘
Afghan civil society activist Orzala Ashraf Nemat branded Karzai ‘very weak’ when he opened up to the possibility of Taliban taking positions in the Afghan government.
General Lord Dannatt, former head of the Army, said: ‘He is looking after his legacy but doing it in an extraordinarily insensitive and rather unfair way.’
Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded UK forces in Afghanistan in 2003, said: ‘The lives of our soldiers have not been sacrificed in vain in Afghanistan.’
The president rubbished claims that involving the Taliban in decision making would have a negative effect on advances in women’s rights.
‘I am confident that things are not going to return, but I am not confident about President Karzai’s assurances,’ she said.
‘My confidence comes from the dedication and determination of Afghan women, who will probably continue to struggle regardless of what situation we face in the future.’
Meanwhile, the US is ‘optimistic’ that an agreement between the two countries over the future of NATO troops in the country will be finalised within the next few weeks.
The US government has said it wants as many as 10,000 troops to remain after 2014 in order to eradicate the remnants of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
However, as talks resumed yesterday after a four month hiatus, it is still possible the two sides will not agree.
There currently are an estimated 87,000 international troops in Afghanistan, including about 52,000 Americans.
On Friday, President Barack Obama said he would consider keeping some American forces on the ground after the conflict formally ends next year, but acknowledged that doing so would require an agreement.
He suggested that if no agreement can be reached, he would be comfortable with a full pullout of U.S. troops.