U.S. Surge: How the Taliban Sees It

Zaeef is still under house arrest, though it appears to be a loose arrangement. A guard detail from Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, the country's intelligence agency, is stationed at his front door, keeping tabs on who comes and goes.

Zaeef views Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and his government as part and parcel of the United States. He was particularly critical of Karzai's recent trip to Kandahar with the commander of all NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal. He viewed the meeting as more evidence that America, not Afghanistan, is calling the shots here.

"Two months ago, Karzai went to Kandahar and told the people there would be no offensive," he said. "Now he returns with McChrystal standing behind him to say that yes there will be. We are not free."

New President, No Change

Zaeef did offer one positive note as he spoke. When I asked what he thought of Karzai's controversial firing of Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan's minister of the Interior, and Amrullah Salih, the head of the country's National Directorate of Security, Zaeef paused for a millisecond and with a half smile said, "That's a good thing."

Both men were well liked by U.S. officials here and viewed as two of the more competent ministers in the Afghan government. Their dismissal has been yet another source of contention between President Karzai and the United States.

"Do you think America has changed?" I asked. "What do you think of President Obama?"

"He offered change," said Zaeef. "But there has been no change. America is still here and in bigger numbers."

"But the troops here are doing something different now," I said. "Do you think President Obama's heart is in the right place?"

Zaeef removed his turban and scratched his closely shaved head. "Bush was a stupid man," he said laughing. "And Obama is clever."

But turning serious, he cautioned, "Sometimes being clever can get you in even more trouble."

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