U.S. and Taliban deny Afghan president's claims

Updated at 6:30 p.m. ET

KABUL Even for President Hamid Karzai it was an astonishing accusation.

He said the two suicide bombings that killed 19 people Saturday were proof the United States and the Taliban were working together to spread fear among Afghans.

"The explosions in Kabul and Khost yesterday showed that they are at the service of America" he said in a nationally televised speech here this morning. "They are trying to frighten us into thinking that if the foreigners are not in Afghanistan, we would be facing these sorts of incidents."

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Joseph Dunford, rejected the allegations as "categorically false."

"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.

Karzai's accusations came out of the blue, in the middle of a televised address honoring Afghan women, an address his office scheduled just Saturday, right in the middle of a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

The Taliban suspended talks with U.S. negotiators a year ago saying Washington was giving mixed signals over a possible Afghan reconciliation process.

But President Karzai said the United States and the Taliban continue to hold "daily negotiations" in the Gulf state of Qatar, working in coordination to destabilize Afghanistan. He did not offer any proof.

A Taliban spokesman denied that talks had resumed or that any progress had been made since they were halted.

Shortly after Karzai's stinging rebuke, the news conference between the Afghan President and the defense secretary was scrubbed. The defense secretary and Karzai eventually met behind closed doors, and Hagel said he told Karzai there are no talks.

Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said the press conference cancellation was not due to Karzai's remarks but related to security concerns.

But it raises questions, and underscores the rising tensions between the United States and Afghanistan.

That tension escalated even more later in the day when Karzai's office issued a decree banning all foreign forces from universities unless they obtain prior permission from the Afghan government.

The president's office cited the detention of a university student in Kandahar on Saturday by Afghan forces working for the CIA.

Karzai's antagonistic tone began days before Defense Secretary Hagel even arrived.

Last Wednesday, he bragged to Parliament that he had succeeded in getting the U.S. to hand over the last of the inmates at Bagram Prison. He said many of those inmates were innocent and would be released after it was completely under Afghan control.

That handover was supposed to take place on Saturday. Only it didn't. It was postponed until 'technical issues' can be resolved.

The U.S. military has insisted some prisoners should be considered enemy combatants and therefore cannot be put on trial, much less released, and that the U.S. should have final veto power over any release.

To underline that point, General Dunford said: "If there are people that need to be detained, we will make sure they are detained."

There's another deadline looming.

Karzai has demanded that all U.S. Special Forces withdraw from the province of Wardak, near Kabul, after accusing them of overseeing murder and torture in the province.

The U.S. has flatly denied any involvement. Again, General Dunford has said he expected to have a solution to the problem, but it remains unclear whether U.S. special forces will meet that deadline, or indeed if they're even trying to.

  • Charlie D'Agata

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