Karzai government accuses U.S. of withholding fuel from Afghan forces

KABUL — Afghan military and police commanders are accusing the U.S.-led coalition of withholding fuel and other support in an attempt to pressure President Hamid Karzai into signing a security agreement with the United States.

Coalition officials strongly deny the allegation, the latest disagreement between the Karzai government and U.S. military leaders.

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According to a statement from Karzai, the issue arose during a meeting of his national security council Sunday. Military and police commanders complained that their forces are struggling with a fuel shortage and said they suspect that the United States is using the resource as leverage over Karzai.

“This deed is contrary to the prior commitment of America,” Karzai’s statement said. “Afghan forces are facing interruption in conducting of their activities as a result of the cessation of fuel and supportive services.”

But coalition officials say they are baffled by the claim.

“There has been no stoppage in the delivery of requested fuel,” the coalition said in a statement. “We remain committed to supporting our ANSF partners and will continue to do so.”

From 2007 through 2012, the U.S. government spent about $500 million on fuel for the Afghan military, with an additional $135 million budgeted for this year, according to an October report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction.

The conflicting statements are another sign of the rising tension between Karzai’s government and the Obama administration over plans to keep up to 15,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

Though a tentative agreement to allow for an extended U.S. presence was reached 10 days ago, Karzai has refused to sign it. He is insisting on additional concessions from the United States, including an end to military raids on Afghan homes, a reduction in drone strikes and help in launching peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents.

U.S. officials have urged Karzai to sign the agreement by the end of the year, warning that President Obama could decide to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan if the uncertainty drags into next year. If such a withdrawal occurs, the Afghan military could lose $4.1 billion in annual funding from the United States and its coalition partners.

According to Karzai’s administration, the United States is already taking steps to show the Afghan government how such a loss would affect its military.

“In some parts of the country, [the Afghan army] needed to send helicopters to bring their dead bodies back to Kabul, but because of the fuel shortage, they were not able to,” said a senior Afghan official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the matter. “This is a way to put pressure on us.”

The concerns come as relations between Karzai’s government and the NATO coalition have appeared to deteriorate over the past two weeks.

Ten days ago, Karzai accused U.S. Special Operations forces of killing two Afghan civilians during a raid on a house in eastern Afghanistan. His assertion angered coalition commanders, who insisted that the men who were killed were “armed insurgents.”

On Thursday, Karzai lashed out after a coalition airstrike killed a 2-year-old boy and wounded two women. Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., commander of coalition forces, called Karzai and apologized for the child’s death.

Coalition officials said the airstrike had targeted an “insurgent riding a motorbike,” who was also killed.

Sayed Salahuddin contributed to this report.

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