Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s accusation that American troops are supporting the Taliban is the latest in a series of indicators that show that after more than a decade of war, the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States is simply broken.
Karzai’s allegation that the United States is aiding the Taliban in an effort to justify a long-term presence in the country is simply bizarre and based in a political reality foreign to the United States and its NATO allies. Nearly 2,100 U.S. soldiers have died and nearly 18,000 have been wounded fighting the Taliban – including two more killed today. And hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent in an effort to create a viable Afghan government with working civic institutions.
But Karzai’s statement – made in part to embarrass Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during his first visit to the country - shows just how little progress the United States has made in transforming Afghanistan into a viable partner. It’s not as if Karzai’s statement is surprising: in recent months, he has made a number of comments designed to provoke the United States.
Two weeks ago, Karzai ordered U.S. troops out of Wardak, a strategically important province west of Kabul (the United States ignored the order, and operations continue there today). He has repeatedly criticized the U.S. withdrawal timeline. He has accused U.S. soldiers of harassing university students without offering proof. And whenever given the chance, he harshly criticizes the broader U.S. Afghan strategy.
These criticisms come from a president who has been mired in corruption since the day he took office. Karzai and his associates have been sullied by election fraud, banking scandals and the drug trade. Members of his family have repeatedly undermined U.S. efforts in key provinces like Kandahar. He has consistently stood as a barrier to progress.
Yet despite this corruption, Karzai’s government has already received tens of billions from the United States, and is set receive tens of billions of dollars more once the majority of U.S. troops leave the country. The money is supposed to go to the Afghan military and government institutions, despite the fact the United States has seen little evidence that the money is spent wisely or even applied to the projects for which it earmarked. Where it ends up is anyone’s guess .
Hagel, for his part, could not have had a more disastrous start as Defense Secretary. A series of attacks disrupted his visit from the start, and security threats forced the cancellation of a press conference with Karzai.
But it was his reaction to Karzai’s accusation that will define this trip. Hagel renounced the statement, but did so without force or emotion. His temperament was reminiscent of his confirmation hearing, where he looked unprepared and uninterested in the proceedings.
The purpose of Hagel’s visit was to show that the United States and Afghanistan are united in their resolve to complete the mission there. What we saw, however, was a broken relationship between two reluctant partners. It exposed a path forward to a war with no good end.