A U.S. general in Afghanistan has been sacked after accusing leaders including President Hamid Karzai of being out of touch and ungrateful for American support, officials said.
Major General Peter Fuller, who was deputy commander of NATO’s mission to train and equip Afghan forces, had been dismissed after making “inappropriate public comments,” the NATO-led international force said late Friday.
In an interview published by news website Politico Thursday, Fuller said Afghan leaders did not fully recognize the human and financial cost borne by the United States in Afghanistan and were “isolated from reality.”
He also directly criticized Karzai after the president said last month that Afghanistan would support Pakistan if Islamabad ever went to war with the United States.
“Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle?” Fuller said of Karzai’s comments.
“You’ve got to be kidding me... I’m sorry, we just gave you $11.6 billion and now you’re telling me, ‘I don't really care?’”
He added: “When they are going to have a presidential election, you hope they get a guy that’s more articulate in public.”
Fuller’s comments made public some of the frustrations expressed privately by U.S. and other foreign military officers and diplomats about working with Karzai and his corruption-plagued government.
But U.S. General John Allen, commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, said they did not reflect the state of the international force's relationship with Karzai.s administration.
“These unfortunate comments are neither indicative of our current solid relationship with the government of Afghanistan, its leadership, or our joint commitment to prevail here in Afghanistan,” Allen said in a statement.
“The Afghan people are an honorable people and comments such as these will not keep us from accomplishing our most critical and shared mission − bringing about a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta fully backed the decision, spokesman Captain John Kirby told AFP.
“The secretary has full trust and confidence in General Allen's judgment with respect to his decision in this case,” Kirby said in an email.
A spokesman for ISAF in Kabul, Lieutenant Gregory Keeley, said it did not have any information on whether Fuller, a two-star general, would be leaving the military or redeployed to another role.
Fuller was relieved of his duties immediately, ISAF said in its statement.
In 2010, General Stanley McCrystal, then commander of international troops in Afghanistan, was dismissed by President Barack Obama over comments made by him and his aides about senior political leaders to Rolling Stone magazine.
NATO’s mission to recruit and train the Afghan army and police to take increasing control of security after foreign combat troops leave in 2014 is seen as one of the most important parts of the military effort in Afghanistan.
Afghan security force numbers have increased significantly in recent years, growing from around 190,000 in late 2009 to some 305,000 today. That figure is due to rise to 352,000 by November next year.
But problems persist, including poor literacy and questions over issues like cronyism.
Elsewhere in the interview, Fuller used an unusual analogy to illustrate how he had to tell Afghan officials why they could not have equipment like F-16 fighter jets and tanks.
"You can teach a man how to fish, or you can give them a fish,” said Fuller.
“We’re giving them fish while they’re learning and they want more fish! (They say) ‘I like swordfish, how come you’re giving me cod?’ Guess what? Cod’s on the menu today.”
He added that one unidentified Afghan figure had told him he only wanted tanks so he could use them in parades.