KABUL, Afghanistan – Two suicide bombings and a host of looming disagreements with the Afghan president cast a shadow on Saturday over U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagels first visit to Afghanistan since taking the post.
Nineteen Afghans were killed – including eight children – in the suicide attacks in Kabul and in the eastern Khost province. A U.S. contractor was killed and four soldiers injured when attackers thought to be Afghan soldiers stormed their base and opened fire Friday, just hours before Hagel arrived.
This attack was a message to him, Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in an email to reporters about one of the bombings, which was outside the countrys Defense Ministry in Kabul.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, meanwhile, was standing by a demand that U.S. special operations forces leave a province neighboring Kabul by Monday for alleged abuses of Afghan civilians – charges U.S. officials deny. And a handover ceremony scheduled for Saturday of a U.S. detention facility also fell through, when U.S. and Afghan officials ran into last-minute disagreements.
The barrage of crises heralding Hagels arrival illustrates the complex minefield of diplomatic and military issues facing the U.S.-led NATO force, and the Obama administration, as they hand over the countrys security to Afghans ahead of the 2014 deadline for the end of NATO combat operations.
The violence also shows the Afghan security forces struggle to contain the Taliban as NATO troops slowly withdraw, even as Afghan President Hamid Karzai argues for his government to have more control over Afghanistans security.
Hagel told reporters he thought he could resolve the special operations issue with face-to-face meetings with Karzai today. And Karzai released a statement late Saturday saying he believed the detention issue had been resolved, and the handover would go ahead within a week, though U.S. officials had no comment.
The prison transfer, originally slated for 2009, has been repeatedly delayed because of disputes between the U.S. 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 U.S. considers a threat.
The Afghan government has maintained that it must have full control over which prisoners are released as a matter of national sovereignty. The issue has threatened to undermine ongoing negotiations for a bilateral security agreement that would govern the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after the current combat mission ends in 2014.