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Hamid Karzai demands US, NATO pull back from Afghan villages

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded a pullback of NATO troops from villages and outposts in the Afghan countryside, and urged the US to speed up the security transition process to Afghan security forces.

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Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers in Usbeen village, in the Surobi district of Kabul province on March 14, 2012. (SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded a pullback of NATO troops from villages and outposts in the Afghan countryside, and urged the US to speed up the security transition process to Afghan security forces.

The LA Times reported that Karzai's call was explicitly tied to the shooting rampage allegedly carried out Sunday by a US Army staff sergeant in rural Kandahar province that left 16 civilians dead, including nine children.

(More from GlobalPost: US soldier held in deaths of 16 Afghans)

Karzai told visiting US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta that US troops should be confined to major bases by next year, and for complete security responsibilities across the country to handed to Afghan troops by 2013, a year earlier than planned by the US.

(More from GlobalPost: Attempted attack on Leon Panetta's Afghanistan visit)

The soldier accused in the pre-dawn shootings on Sunday was posted at a base in Kandahar's rural Panjwayi district.

"Afghanistan's security forces have the capability to provide security in the villages of Afghanistan," said a statement from the presidential palace cited by the LA Times Times.

While Karzai had little power to effect such a move, his demand reflected the "rapidly souring mood" between Karzai's government and its Western allies prosecuting the decade-old war against Taliban forces in the country.

The call was also at odds with a pledge offered hours earlier by President Barack Obama to stick to the 2014 withdrawal schedule for US troops, The New York Times wrote.

Pentagon officials have also insisted that Afghan security forces are not yet ready to take over control of the country. 

Afghanistan has recently been wracked by protests against perceived misbehaviors by US troops. In a recent incident, several US soldiers were found to have burned copies of the Quran, leading to violent anti-American protests around the country which left around 30 Afghans dead.

Later, six US service members were shot by Afghan soldiers, further heightening tensions.

Earlier Thursday, the Taliban movement declared a suspension of dialogue with the US.

(GlobalPost reports: Afghan Taliban suspend peace talks with US)

Karzai's demand, according to the LA Times, raises the prospect that Taliban fighters could use the upcoming fair weather "fighting season" to move on strongholds in southern Afghanistan countryside.

For that reason, a senior US defense official told the paper that Karzai's approach was unworkable.

"Afghanistan is a country of villages," the official reportedly said, adding that training and advising the Afghan army may become impossible if Western forces were banned from countryside outposts.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/afghanistan/120315/afghanistan-hamid-karzai-afghan-villages-nato-shooting-massacre-kandahar