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Question of the Day
WASHINGTON (AP) — The top U.S. diplomat in Kabul and a campaign adviser to President Obama said Sunday the United States isn’t rethinking its commitment to Afghanistan after violent protests left more than two dozen people dead, including two American shot inside a government ministry.
U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Robert Gibbs, Mr. Obama’s former press secretary, said they believe Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s fragile government could collapse and the Taliban would regain power if the U.S. were to walk away.
Their comments echoed arguments made by the Bush administration at the height of violence in Iraq, even as popular support for that war was waning. As they did during the Iraq conflict, American voters are questioning the utility of the decadelong Afghan war and whether a stable government there would be worth the loss in U.S. blood and treasure.
Mr. Obama apologized last week to Mr. Karzai for what U.S. officials said was an inadvertent burning of Afghan religious materials, including Korans, at Bagram Airfield north of Kabul. Still, the incident fanned anti-Western sentiment across the country, leaving dozens of people dead, including four U.S. troops reportedly killed by their Afghan counterparts.
On Saturday, a U.S. lieutenant colonel and a major were found shot inside a heavily guarded Afghan ministry. The Taliban claimed responsibility and said the killings were in retaliation for the Koran burnings. The shootings prompted the unprecedented recall of NATO personnel working inside Afghan ministries, dealing a serious blow to the U.S. effort to rebuild the Afghan government through mentoring.
Afghan officials, including the defense and interior ministers, canceled planned visits to Washington this coming week so they could remain in Kabul for consultations about how to quell the violence, Pentagon press secretary George Little said Sunday. He said Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta “understands why that’s a priority” and hopes to see them soon at the Pentagon.
Meetings with Mr. Panetta and U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were on the schedule.
Mr. Obama’s political opponents have seized on the series of events to cast doubt on the president’s handling of the war, aligning themselves with voters frustrated by the slow progress.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that if Mr. Karzai “doesn’t feel like apologizing, then we should say goodbye and good luck. We don’t need to be here risking our lives and wasting our money on somebody who doesn’t care.”
“It’s an extraordinary admission of failure for us to establish the relationships that you’d have to have for a successful transition to the Afghan military and Afghan security leadership,” Mr. Romney said.
Mr. Crocker defended Kabul’s reaction to the protests and said Afghan security forces are working to quell the protests.
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