US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta attends a ceremony at army headquarters in Lima, Peru, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012. Panetta is in Lima on an official visit for one day. —  Photo by AP

LIMA: US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has voiced frustration with Afghan President Hamid Karzai preferring to criticise American troops, rather than acknowledging the sacrifices they have made.

Panetta, who arrived in Peru on Friday night to begin a Latin American tour, told reporters aboard the military plane taking him to Lima that Karzai should remember that more than 2,000 Americans had died in Afghanistan.

The angry riposte came after President Karzai said on Thursday that the United States was failing to go after militants based in Pakistan, another charge that Mr Panetta chose to hit back at.

Speaking at a press conference in Kabul, Mr Karzai accused the United States of playing a “double game” by fighting a war against Afghan militants rather than their backers in Pakistan where, in the president’s words, “terrorism is financed and manufactured”.

The Afghan president also lamented what he described as Nato’s refusal to supply Afghanistan with modern weapons necessary to fight its enemies.

But a visibly displeased US defence secretary suggested the Afghan president had focused on the wrong things. “We have made progress in Afghanistan because there are men and women in uniform who are willing to fight and die for Afghanistan’s sovereignty and their right to govern and secure themselves,” Mr Panetta said.

“We’ve lost over 2,000 US men and women, Isaf has lost forces there and the Afghans have lost a large number of their forces in battle.

“Those lives were lost fighting the right enemy, not the wrong enemy. And I think it would be helpful if the president, every once in a while, expressed his thanks for the sacrifices that have been made by those who have fought and died for Afghanistan rather than criticise.”

The outburst was rare for Mr Panetta and the remarks came as relations between the United States and Afghanistan are under strain in the wake of several deadly and high-profile attacks on US troops by their local comrades.

In Afghanistan, the United States has also seen its image tarnished among ordinary Afghans this year by the burning of copies of Holy Quran at a military base, the abuse of corpses and a massacre of civilians by a rogue American soldier.

An unprecedented number of Afghan security personnel have turned their weapons against their allies, killing at least 51 Nato soldiers this year.

Despite this, many Afghans, particularly in the cities, fear the departure of the western troops in 2014 from a country where the government of Mr Karzai is widely seen as corrupt and dependent on foreign support.

Meanwhile, Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters: “This (Panetta’s) trip will reaffirm the department’s commitment to strengthening partnership around the world, particularly in Latin America and Europe.”

The United States has provided Peru with surveillance planes to disrupt drug traffickers and help tackle remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla group. Washington gave Lima $659 million in associated aid between 2006 and 2011.

A senior US defence official said Mr Panetta would offer further help to Peru under the Ministry of Defence Advisers programme, a scheme currently being used in Afghanistan.

Panetta would be in Uruguay on Sunday, the Pentagon said, and he would take part in the 10th Conference of Defence Ministers of the Americas at the Punta del Este resort, before travelling to Brussels on Monday.—AFP


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