The End in Afghanistan? Radical Change Is in the Air and the American Position Is Visibly Crumbling
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That very same day, Allen’s commander-in-chief sent a letter to Afghan President Hamid Karzai that included an apology, expressing “deep regret for the reported incident.” “The error was inadvertent,’’ President Obama wrote. “I assure you that we will take the appropriate steps to avoid any recurrence, to include holding accountable those responsible.’’
Obama’s letter drew instant fire from Republican presidential candidates, most forcefully former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who called it an “outrage” and demanded instead that President Karzai issue an apology for the two Americans shot down by an Afghan soldier. (Otherwise, he added, “we should say goodbye and good luck.”)
Translated into Washingtonese, the situation now looked like this: a Democratic president on the campaign trail in an election year who apologizes to a foreign country has a distinct problem. Two foreign countries? Forget it.
As a result, efforts to mend crucial, if rocky, relations with Pakistan were thrown into chaos. Because of cross-border U.S. air strikes in November which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, ties between the two countries were already deeply frayed and Pakistan was still blocking critical resupply routes for the war in Afghanistan. With American war efforts suffering for it and resupply costs sky-high, the U.S. government had put together a well-choreographed plan to smooth the waters.
General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was to issue a formal apology to Pakistan’s army chief. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would then follow up with a similar apology to her Pakistani counterpart.
Fearing further Republican backlash, however, the Obama administration quickly altered its timetable, putting off the apology for at least several more weeks, effectively telling the Pakistanis that any regrets over the killing of their troops would have to wait for a time more convenient to the U.S. election cycle.
Trading apologies to Afghans for those to Pakistanis, however, turned out to mean little on the streets of Afghanistan, where even in non-Taliban areas of the country, chants of “Death to America!” were becoming commonplace. “Just by saying ‘I am sorry,’ nothing can be solved,” protester Wali Mohammed told the New York Times. “We want an open trial for those infidels who have burned our Holy Koran.”
And his response was subdued compared to that of Mohammed Anwar, an officer with the U.S.-allied Afghan police. “I will take revenge from the infidels for what they did to our Holy Koran, and I will kill them whenever I get the chance,” he said. “I don’t care about the job I have.”
A day later, when Anwar’s words were put into action by someone who undoubtedly had similar feelings, General Allen announced yet another investigation, this time with tough talk, not apologies, following. "I condemn today's attack at the Afghan Ministry of Interior that killed two of our coalition officers, and my thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the brave individuals lost today," he said in a statement provided to TomDispatch by ISAF. "We are investigating the crime and will pursue all leads to find the person responsible for this attack. The perpetrator of this attack is a coward whose actions will not go unanswered."
Allen also took the unprecedented step of severing key points of contact with America’s Afghan allies. "For obvious force protection reasons, I have also taken immediate measures to recall all other ISAF personnel working in ministries in and around Kabul."
Unable to reboot relations with allies in Islamabad due to the unrest in Afghanistan (which was, in fact, already migrating across the border), the U.S. now found itself partially severing ties with its “partners” in Kabul as well. Meanwhile, back home, Gingrich and others raised the possibility of severing ties with President Karzai himself. In other words, the heat was rising in both the White House and the Afghan presidential palace, while any hope of controlling events elsewhere in either country was threatening to disappear.