Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who owes his tenure in office -- if not his life -- to the 12-year-long U.S. military presence in his country appears to be doing his best to ensure that Americans stick to their timetable for withdrawing troops there later this year.
Karzai signed off on the release of 65 accused militants from a former U.S.-run prison, which is now under Afghan control, doing so over the protests of U.S. military officials and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who termed the action "a major step backward for the rule of law in Afghanistan."
Americans say that the inmates freed by Karzai are dangerous men who have been responsible for the deaths of coalition forces in Afghanistan. Among those released is Mohammad Wali, who the U.S. military says is a suspected Taliban explosives expert, and Nek Mohammad, who the U.S. says was captured with extensive weapons.
Karzai has become increasingly strident in his differences with the United States as his term in office draws to a close and America prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, where we have had a military presence since shortly after the 9/11 attacks, losing more than 2,000 service personnel in the ensuing 12 years.
"Afghanistan is a sovereign country. If Afghanistan judiciary authorities decide to release prisoners, it is of no concern to the United States," Karzai said following the release of the prisoners Thursday.
He is correct about Afghanistan's sovereignty, but conveniently overlooks that he was placed in power because of American military involvement in his nation, not to mention the fact that Americans have died to keep him in power in what has turned out to be this nation's longest war. And, despite what he says, the United States has every reason to be concerned about opening the prisons and letting loose men who have been responsible for the killing of our armed forces and their allies.
Karzai's increasingly anti-American stance may be part of a ploy to broker a peace agreement with the Taliban, which remains a threat to the stability of the Kabul regime. That might also be a factor in his reluctance to sign a security agreement with Washington.
The U.S. is seeking a means to enable a residual force of American troops to remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal process is completed. If Karzai persists in engaging in shows of "independence" that could put Americans at risk -- and that's what the release of the 65 he set free last week did -- Washington ought to reconsider sticking around. It's been more than a dozen years, we've lost more than 2,000 of our men and women there and don't have a great deal to show for their sacrifice, least of all the gratitude of a leader who owes us more than he cares to admit. If Karzai is in such a hurry for us to leave, so be it. He's on his own.