In bid to end recent tensions, US ambassador says OK for Washington, Kabul to disagree

By Rahim Faiez, AP
Saturday, April 10, 2010

US ambassador says Washington, Kabul can disagree

KABUL — Disagreements between Washington and Kabul are natural and should be taken in stride, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said Saturday, as the sides sought to move past friction that surfaced after President Hamid Karzai’s harsh criticism of the West.

Karzai has lashed out at the United Nations and the international community over alleged interference in last year’s fraud-tarnished presidential election, at one point even threatening to join the insurgency if the West didn’t back off.

Such occasional flare-ups are inevitable, Karl Eikenberry told reporters at the end of a news conference in Kabul.

“This is not easy work to do,” he said. “We can have different perspectives.”

Karzai’s comments had been called disturbing by the White House and officials had suggested they could cancel Karzai’s planned visit to Washington in May if they continued.

However, in an interview published Friday, President Barack Obama’s said Karzai remains “a critical partner” in the fight against terrorism, while National Security Adviser James Jones told reporters the sides had “gotten through this period.”

Obama has been more critical of Karzai than his predecessor George W. Bush, although that tone appears to be softening amid the realization that Karzai is vital to holding Afghanistan together as the U.S. moves to boost troop levels to 100,000 in hopes of delivering a final defeat on the Taliban and al-Qaida. U.S. officials warn, though, that graft, cronyism, and electoral fraud makes that task harder by fueling sympathy for the Taliban.

Meanwhile, militants launched a pre-dawn attack on an Indian road construction camp in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, burning vehicles and equipment and sending the crew fleeing, authorities said.

No deaths or injuries were reported in the attack in Khost province’s Domanda district, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. Suspected Taliban, who are active in the mountainous eastern region bordering Pakistan, descended on the camp overnight.

Such raids seek to discourage foreign involvement in Afghanistan and destabilize the central government, which is struggling to bring development to the impoverished countryside and extend its mandate outside the capital, Kabul.

It wasn’t clear whether the camp was targeted due to Indian involvement, although militants have launched a number of bloody attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan over recent years.

A total of 75 people were killed in suicide car bombings outside the Indian embassy in Kabul in July 2008 and October 2009, while at least six Indians were killed in an attack on a Kabul guesthouse in February. Taliban insurgents have claimed responsibility for the attacks, although New Delhi has claimed archrival Pakistan may have provided support in the embassy attack.

Elsewhere, two members of a nomadic tribe were killed by a roadside bomb Friday in the southern province of Kandahar, the ministry said. No details were given.

NATO said a joint Afghan-international force captured an explosives expert and several other suspected militants in a raid on a compound west of Kandahar city on Friday night. It did not say whether any bomb-making materials were recovered.

Also Saturday, NATO said it still had no information on what caused the crash of a U.S. Air Force Osprey in which three service members and a civilian contractor were killed. It was the first crash of the costly tilt-rotor aircraft in a combat zone, the U.S. military said.

Numerous other service members were reported injured when the aircraft went down late Thursday seven miles (11 kilometers) from Qalat, the capital of Zabul province about 200 miles (300 kilometers) southwest of Kabul.

A Taliban spokesman said militants shot down the aircraft, but the insurgents often make exaggerated claims.

Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann and Christopher Bodeen in Kabul contributed to this report.

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