A US Army general in Afghanistan has been fired – “relieved of command,” in military jargon – for speaking critically of Afghan military and political officials, including President Hamid Karzai.
In an interview with Politico, Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller, deputy commander of the American-led NATO effort to train and equip Afghan security forces, called key elements of the Afghan government “isolated from reality,” described Karzai as “erratic,” and said officials there “don’t understand the sacrifices that America is making to provide for their security.”
The two-star general flashed irritation when he brought up Karzai’s recent remarks that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in a war against the U.S., blasting the president’s comments as “erratic,” and adding, “Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle! You’ve got to be kidding me … I’m sorry, we just gave you $11.6 billion and now you’re telling me, ‘I don’t really care’?”
“I said, ‘You guys are isolated from reality.’ The reality is, the world economy is having some significant hiccups. The U.S. is in this [too],” Fuller told POLITICO. “If you’re in a very poor country like Afghanistan, you think that America has roads paved in gold, everybody lives in Hollywood. They don’t understand the sacrifices that America is making to provide for their security.”
Citing “inappropriate public comments,” Gen. John Allen, commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, promptly relieved Fuller of his duties, which means he’s unlikely to advance beyond his two-star rank.
“These unfortunate comments are neither indicative of our current solid relationship with the government of Afghanistan, its leadership, or our joint commitment to prevail here in Afghanistan,” Gen. Allen said in a statement. “The Afghan people are an honorable people, and comments such as these will not keep us from accomplishing our most critical and shared mission – bringing about a stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan.”
Officials with the NATO operation in Afghanistan, known as the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), also felt the need to separate themselves from Fuller’s comments.
"These unfortunate comments are clearly MG Fuller's personal opinions,” ISAF said in a statement Friday. “However, they in no way represent the policies or positions of the International Security and Assistance Force."
In some ways, Fuller’s less-than-diplomatic comments echo what US officials have said privately about the war in Afghanistan – including Fuller’s critique of Karzai.
But from the swiftness of the punishment, it was clear that the veteran of more than 30 years in the Army had gone too far in expressing his frustration – especially as a very senior officer in a very public position in Afghanistan.
As deputy commander of the NATO training mission in charge of programs, Fuller was in charge of distributing $11 billion in equipment, supplies, training, and contracts.
The last senior officer to be relieved of command for speaking out of turn was US Army General Stanley McChrystal, now retired. McChrystal was commander of ISAF when remarks critical of Obama administration officials were attributed to McChrystal and his aides in an article in Rolling Stone magazine.
Recalled to Washington by President Obama, McChrystal quickly retired. He has since formed a consulting firm, teaches a graduate seminar at Yale University, and has joined several corporate boards of directors.
The Fuller story was the second time in less than a week that Politico, a multimedia news organization based in Arlington, Va., and founded by two veteran Washington Post journalists, has broken major news.
Last weekend, Politico reporters were the first to detail allegations of sexual harassment against Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain.