Senator Graham says "stunned" at Karzai comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a recent visit, said on Sunday he was “stunned” at Karzai’s comments to a Washington newspaper, which appeared at odds with U.S. military strategy.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) points as he addresses the gala banquet of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington March 22, 2010. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

In an interview with The Washington Post, Karzai said he wants the U.S. military to scale back the visibility and intensity of its operations in Afghanistan and end night raids that he said incited people to join the Taliban insurgency.

Karzai’s comments put him at odds with General David Petraeus, who has made “capture-and-kill” missions a central part of counterinsurgency strategy, the Post said.

“I’m just stunned. We had a great meeting,” Graham, part of a visiting congressional delegation that had dinner with Karzai, said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“We were briefed by our military commanders that the night raids ... are making a huge impact on the Taliban ...,” said Graham, adding: “This didn’t come up at all” in discussions with Karzai.

“We talked about, quite frankly, looking long term with Afghanistan about having two air bases in a permanent fashion in Afghanistan to provide stability, so at the end of the day, there was no discussion about a difference between Petraeus and Karzai, in terms of strategy,” he said.

In the Washington Post interview, Karzai said his comments were not meant as criticism of the United States and that candor could improve what he called a “grudging” relationship between the two countries.

Night raids of Afghan homes by U.S. Special Operations forces had killed or captured 368 insurgency leaders in the past three months, the Post said.

On pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said 2014 was a more realistic time frame than the July 2011 deadline President Barack Obama had set for beginning a withdrawal. Obama’s administration is now playing down that date.

“2014 is the right date to talk about. That’s when Karzai suggests that Afghans will be in the lead and I’m very pleased to hear President Obama talk about 2014,” said Graham.

Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; editing by Christopher Wilson