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Afghans react coolly to Petraeus, Allen scandal

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KABUL — The growing sex scandal involving the two most recent top U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan is being met here with a mixture of shrugs, snickers and sober reflections on the United States’ moral and military leadership in the world.

But almost no one believes that the controversy surrounding retired Gen. David H. Petraeus, who resigned last week as CIA director, and Gen. John R. Allen, who replaced him as NATO commander here 16 months ago, will have any meaningful impact on U.S. policy or actions in the country, which U.S. troops are scheduled to leave by 2014.

“If this is a crime, it is personal. It may involve some senior NATO officials, but it has nothing to do with the thousands of American troops here,” said Gen. Syed Maluk, a senior Afghan army commander in Helmand province. “If you burn the Koran or insult our prophet, that can affect us. But if there is any betrayal here, it is only to someone’s wife, not to all American forces.”

Maluk and other Afghan army leaders said their major concern was making sure that the U.S. military continues to provide them with equipment and logistical support after U.S. combat troops leave. They said they did not think the problems of either Petraeus or Allen, who was already due to be replaced in the next few months, would affect this issue one way or another.

“These were not simple men, they were important NATO leaders, so of course it is of concern to us, but we still have a lot of respect for General Allen,” said Capt. Mohammed Aziz, an Afghan base commander in Wardak province. “We don’t know anything about these e-mails they sent. We do know that the Taliban have more advanced weapons than we do, and we know we will still need American military support to fight them after the American troops leave.”

Several current and former Afghan lawmakers said that American society was much more prone to sensationalize and judge romantic indiscretions than Afghan society and that the personal behavior of Petraeus and Allen should not be seen as having a bearing on their military judgment or legacy in Afghanistan.

“In Afghan culture, private life is private life,” said Shukria Barakzai, a Kabul lawmaker who sits on a parliamentary defense panel. “We know this news will damage America’s reputation in the world, but these are distinguished men. General Allen has been a very effective leader here, and he understands Afghan values and culture. I hope whoever comes next will be as understanding.”

Daoud Sultanzoi, a former lawmaker from Ghazni province, was more critical, calling the entanglements of Petraeus and, allegedly, Allen “very disturbing” in light of the high-profile role both officials have played in U.S. wars and military decision-making. “I wonder what the Taliban and other insurgents will make of this,” Sultanzoi said. “Can a real transition take place when there is lame leadership in the U.S. military here?”

One Afghan analyst, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he is now working on a U.S. government project here, said he and his colleagues all agreed that the contretemps in Washington is “just not a big issue” for Afghans.

“Things happen in life. Most Afghans don’t know or understand the details of this scandal,” he said. “These generals still have a good reputation here, and that’s not going to change.”

Javed Hamdard contributed to this report.

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