The top US commander in Afghanistan warned his troops to be ready for increased violence because of a series of anti-American statements by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Nato has said.
In an email to battlefield commanders, General Joseph Dunford, said the remarks could spur more insider attacks, days after gunmen in Afghan uniforms killed two US special forces troops and a US contractor in two separate shootings. "We're at a rough point in the relationship," Gen Dunford said in the email, according to a senior US official.
Mr Karzai's office released a new statement today explaining the president's earlier remarks, after news of the email broke. "My recent comments were meant to help reform, not destroy the relationship," Mr Karzai told an audience gathered for a televised talk show filmed at the Presidential Palace. "We want good relations and friendship with America, but the relationship must be between two independent nations."
That explanation may do little to soothe US officials' unease. Over the weekend, the Afghan leader accused the US of colluding with the Taliban on suicide attacks to keep the country unstable and give foreign forces an excuse to stay beyond their 2014 mandate. His remarks followed two suicide attacks that killed at least 19 Afghans on Saturday, coinciding with the first official visit by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Mr Karzai also cautioned that the delay in handing over a US-run detention centre to Afghan control "could harm bilateral relations." His remarks came after he and Gen Dunford met on Wednesday to discuss the issue but failed to resolve the impasse.
The prison transfer, originally slated for 2009, has been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between the US and Afghan governments about whether all detainees should have the right to a trial and who will have the ultimate authority over the release of prisoners the US considers a threat.
The Afghan government has maintained that it needs full control over which prisoners are released as a matter of national sovereignty. The issue has threatened to undermine negotiations for a security agreement that would govern the presence of US forces in Afghanistan after the current combat mission ends in 2014.
Gen Dunford and other top US officials have rejected Mr Karzai's allegations of collusion with the Taliban. Gen Dunford's warning to his troops, first reported by The New York Times, showed the deep US concern that Mr Karzai's words could go beyond angry rhetoric and spark violence targeting US forces, a threat that could harm the larger relationship.
Nato also released a statement explaining the missive, saying it "routinely conducts assessments and adapts its protection posture to ensure our forces are prepared to meet potential threats." The statement calls Gen Dunford's email "prudent given increased coalition causalities in recent days."
The general also said unusually warm weather could mean an early start to the Taliban fighting season because militants can return from now-open high mountain passes from Pakistan.