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US to offer Afghanistan wider role in Special Operations missions: WSJ

By Nairita Das

Washington, Nov 18 (ANI): In a bid to ease tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the White House has promised to gradually give greater control to Afghans over Special Operations missions that the Afghan president has sharply criticized.

Washington hopes to smooth over differences with Karzai, and present a united front at a NATO conference this weekend in Lisbon, where coalition leaders are expected to endorse a plan that sets the goal of handing over security control to the Afghans by the end of 2014, The Wall Street Journal reported.

In recent months, Special Operations raids have assumed a higher profile, with the US and NATO military officials in Afghanistan touting the number of insurgent leaders who have been killed or captured, and calling the missions a critical part of the war strategy. But the raids, mostly at night, have long been a sore point with Karzai because of his concerns over civilian casualties.

In an interview to the newspaper this past weekend, the Afghan leader called for an end to raids by Special Operations forces, spotlighting tensions between the U.S. and Afghanistan on how to conduct the war.

Although US officials have rejected calls to halt the raids, in a news briefing on Tuesday, administration officials sought to play down the rift with the Afghan government as temporary.

"As Afghan special forces capacity increases, we'd expect to transition from what is today a predominantly international special operations forces role to one that's increasingly Afghan," White House Afghanistan adviser Douglas Lute told reporters.

It is unlikely, however, that the US will completely abandon unilateral Special Operations missions in Afghanistan, the paper said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates separately sought to ease tensions with the Afghan government on Tuesday, highlighting that all Special Operations raids were done in partnership with Afghan commandos, as he said at the paper's CEO Council in Washington, "We will continue to work with him [Karzai] as a good partner."

NATO military officials in Kabul have been frustrated by Karzai's public comments, the paper said, adding that officials, however, said that they were not surprised by the comments, noting that the Afghan president has made similar demands in private, and stressed that Karzai remained the US' primary partner in Afghanistan.

"Look, none of this helps any of us," said a senior NATO officer in Kabul. "But does it mean we're going to stop working with him? Of course not. He's the president." (ANI)

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