The top American commander in Afghanistan abruptly fired a two-star general who had publicly disparaged Afghan President Hamid Karzai, underscoring the military's deep concern about further straining the already-tense relationship between Washington and Kabul.
Marine Gen. John Allen, who leads all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, relieved Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller of his duties as the deputy commander of the NATO command charged with training Afghan security personnel. The move came one day after Fuller told a reporter that Karzai was "isolated from reality" and "erratic."
"These unfortunate comments are neither indicative of our current solid relationship with the government of Afghanistan, its leadership, or our joint commitment to prevail here in Afghanistan", Allen said in a late Friday afternoon news release. “The Afghan people are an honorable people, and comments such as these will not keep us from accomplishing our most critical and shared mission — bringing about a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan."
The comments brought a quick end to a controversy that erupted on Thursday after Politico published an interview in which Fuller derided Karzai for the Afghan leader's recent comments about siding with Pakistan if it went to war with the U.S.
"Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle! You’ve got to be kidding me.… I’m sorry, we just gave you $11.6 billion and now you’re telling me, ‘I don’t really care?’ ” Fuller said, according to Politico.
Fuller also told Politico that Karzai and other Afghan leaders failed to understand that the current economic crisis in the U.S. was sapping American support for the war.
“I said, ‘You guys are isolated from reality.’ The reality is, the world economy is having some significant hiccups. The U.S. is in this [too],” he said, according to the newspaper. “If you’re in a very poor country like Afghanistan, you think that America has roads paved in gold, everybody lives in Hollywood. They don’t understand the sacrifices that America is making to provide for their security. And I think that’s part of my job to educate 'em.”
A military official familiar with the matter said that Fuller acknowledged that he had been quoted accurately in the piece. The official said Fuller would be returning to the U.S. within days, but that it had not yet been decided if he would be reassigned to a different post or drummed out of the military altogether.
The contretemps marks the second time a senior general has lost his job after ill-considered remarks to the press. In the fall of 2009, President Obama fired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, then the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, after Rolling Stone quoted the general and his aides mocking Vice President Joe Biden and other senior White House officials. McChrystal, now working in the private sector and preparing his memoirs, has maintained warm relations with Karzai and plans to visit Afghanistan soon at his personal invitation.