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NATO Setbacks Taint Afghan Mission

Tuesday, 22 Jun 2010 06:10 AM

KABUL — NATO on Tuesday faced setbacks in Afghanistan as US General Stanley McChrystal appeared to mock the White House, the British envoy took extended leave and casualties mounted in the anti-Taliban war.

In an extraordinary article published in Rolling Stone, the commander of the 142,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan was quoted as denouncing the US envoy in Kabul while his aides dismissed President Barack Obama and mocked his deputies.

McChrystal, a former special operations chief, has enjoyed mostly sympathetic US media coverage since he took over the NATO-led force last year with a mandate from Obama to launch a major anti-insurgency offensive.

But the article appeared to catch him and his staff in unguarded moments, forcing a swift apology from McChrystal.

"It was a mistake reflecting poor judgement and should never have happened," he said in a statement. "I have enormous respect and admiration for President Obama and his national security team."

In the Rolling Stone profile, McChrystal joked sarcastically about preparing to answer a question referring to Vice President Joe Biden, known as a sceptic of the commander's strategy of hurling thousands more troops into the fray.

He also told the magazine that he felt "betrayed" by the US ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, in a White House debate over war strategy last year.

Referring to a leaked internal memo from Eikenberry that questioned McChrystal's request for more troops, the commander suggested the ambassador had tried to protect himself for history's sake.

Further turmoil came as Britain announced its special envoy to Afghanistan was taking "extended leave", amid reports he clashed with military officials over strategy just a month ahead of a crucial international conference.

A spokesman for Britain's Foreign Office confirmed that Sherard Cowper-Coles was on leave from his post, which also covers Pakistan.

Foreign Secretary William Hague is to review the post of special envoy to Afghanistan, the BBC reported.

The Guardian newspaper reported there had been serious disagreements in recent months between Cowper-Coles and officials from NATO.

It said he was convinced the military-focused counter-insurgency effort was headed for failure and wanted talks with Taliban insurgents to be a priority.

The Taliban, however, have so far rejected a plan drawn up at a landmark Kabul peace meeting to give jobs and money to those who lay down arms and have vowed a new campaign of attacks on diplomats, lawmakers and foreign forces.

The frictions came after a deadly day in Afghanistan, where 10 NATO troops were killed in attacks and a helicopter crash on Monday -- the second time this month that 10 service members have been killed in a single day.

The deaths of three Australian commandos, five Americans, a Canadian and another soldier whose nationality was not released took to 65 the number of NATO soldiers killed this month and 285 this year, according to an AFP tally.

The mounting NATO toll is unwelcome news in Western capitals where political leaders are under mounting pressure from electorates unwilling to tolerate the price for a far-away and seemingly open-ended war.

Roadside bomb attacks killed five civilians and two policemen in western and southern Afghanistan on Monday, police said Tuesday. A female suicide attacker also wounded over a dozen people in the east, they said.

Much of southern Afghanistan is blighted by the Taliban insurgency, now in its deadliest phase since the 2001 US-led invasion ousted the hardline Islamist regime and installed a Western-backed administration led by Hamid Karzai.

The US military has warned that casualties will inevitably mount as foreign forces build up their campaign to oust the militants from Kandahar, a hotbed of bombings, assassinations and lawlessness.

Obama's troop surge -- the brainchild of McChrystal -- will see NATO and US numbers peak at 150,000 later this year before a drawdown that is scheduled to start next year.

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KABUL — NATO on Tuesday faced setbacks in Afghanistan as US General Stanley McChrystal appeared to mock the White House, the British envoy took extended leave and casualties mounted in the anti-Taliban war.
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2010-10-22
Tuesday, 22 Jun 2010 06:10 AM
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