The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan is warning U.S. and other NATO troops to watch their backs because recent inflammatory comments by Afghan President Hamid Karzai may prompt Afghans to "lash out" against foreign troops.
The warning, known as a direct threat advisory, was issued by Gen. Joseph Dunford on Wednesday. A part of the advisory includes a strongly worded warning that increasing tensions with Karzai could directly put troops in harm's way.
"His (Karzai's) remarks could be a catalyst for some to lash out against our forces," the advisory states. "He may also issue orders that put our forces at risk."
The International Security and Assistance Force in Kabul would not release the advisory in its entirety, but a military official told ABC News portions of it published earlier in the New York Times were accurate.
Ten years ago, such a warning would have been unthinkable, that Karzai, a longtime U.S. ally widely seen as coming to power on the heels of tremendous American support, would adopt an apparently anti-U.S. stance. But a series of attacks and political standoffs this week appear to have further shaken what is now clearly a deteriorating relationship.
On Saturday, a pair of suicide bombers struck in Kabul and Khost, killing nearly 20 Afghan civilians. The Kabul attack took place outside the Ministry of Defense, one of the most heavily fortified buildings complexes in the country. The attack coincided with a visit by Chuck Hagel, his first as U.S. Secretary of Defense. Though Hagel was on a nearby U.S. military base at the time and never in harm's way, the Taliban claimed they did it "to send a message to him."
The following day, in a nationally televised speech, Karzai lashed out at both the Taliban and the United States, implying both were promoting instability in Afghanistan as an excuse to justify foreign troop presence after 2014, when combat operations come to an end.
"Yesterday's bombings in Khost and Kabul were not aimed at showing their strength to the USA but to serve the USA," Karzai said.
"Yesterday's bombings in the name of the Taliban were aimed at serving the foreigners and supporting the presence of the foreigners in Afghanistan and keeping them in Afghanistan by intimidating us."
The comments drew a sharp rebuke from U.S. officials
"We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the last 12 years, to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage," Dunford said.
More than 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.
Later that day, a joint-press conference between Hagel and Karzai was cancelled. A Karzai spokesperson said the cancellation was due to "scheduling pressures," but a Pentagon spokesperson cited security concerns. The cancellation was widely seen as a U.S. snub to Karzai, in response to his comments.
On Monday, another so-called insider attack at a police training facility further strained tensions. U.S. and Afghan officials say a rogue Afghan soldier jumped into the back of a pickup truck and began firing a roof-mounted machine gun, killing two U.S. Special Operations Force members and several Afghans. The attack took place in Wardak province one day after the expiration of a deadline Karzai had set for all U.S. Special Operations Forces to leave. Karzai accused U.S.-trained and supported Afghan militias who work alongside the Special Forces of harassing, torturing, and murdering innocent civilians – claims backed up by a number of villagers.