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US Policy in Afghanistan Unraveling After Massacre

While demonstrations and protests have been muted, the massacre of 16 Afghan civilians by a US soldier (or soldiers; still no clarity on that) has begun to unravel US policy in the war. The military transferred the soldier to Kuwait, a move that has sparked outrage among the population, who think that justice ought to be served on Afghan soil. Afghan lawmakers are now tying the strategic partnership agreement that was in the midst of being negotiated with the US to the return of the accused soldier.

Then, the Afghan Taliban suspended their talks with the US over setting up an office in Qatar, as a prelude to peace negotiations.

In a statement, the Taliban said the US kept changing the terms of the negotiations.

This caused them to suspend talks with the US aimed at setting up a political office in Qatar and on a prisoner exchange.

It was thought that a deal to exchange five Taliban fighters currently held at Guantanamo Bay for a kidnapped American soldier was only weeks away, says the BBC’s Quentin Sommerville in Kabul.

This is a significant setback for tentative efforts to begin peace talks with the insurgents, our correspondent adds.

Adding to that, Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a new demand on NATO troops, saying that they should withdraw to major bases and stay out of rural areas by 2013, earlier than the current timeline.

Karzai also said he now wants Afghan forces take the lead for countrywide security in 2013, a year ahead of schedule. He spoke as Afghan lawmakers were expressing outrage that the U.S. flew the soldier suspected in civilian killings to Kuwait Wednesday night when they were demanding he be tried in the country.

“Afghan security forces have the ability to keep the security in rural areas and in villages on their own,” Karzai said in a statement after meeting visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. He said he had conveyed his demand to Panetta during their meeting.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai confirmed that Karzai was asking for NATO to immediately pull back from villages and rural areas to main bases.

I’m not sure that this is such a shift. NATO already agreed to a 2013 end to combat operations rather than 2014, although that remains a bit muddled. But Karzai is definitely feeling pressure to make more demands in the name of Afghan sovereignty.

The massacre is a catalyst for all of these developments. But really, it just uncorked a simmering anger from Afghan lawmakers, reflecting that of the public. They don’t want an occupation presence over their heads anymore. And the Taliban, given that circumstance, probably sees no strategic advantage to negotiations right now.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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