By Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr
The commander of NATO's international security force in Afghanistan sacked a senior U.S. Army general Friday for making disparaging comments about the Afghan government.
Gen. John R. Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, said Major Gen. Peter Fuller was relieved of duty, effective immediately, for making "inappropriate public comments."
Fuller, who was helping train and equip Afghan security forces, made less-than-diplomatic comments about the Afghan government and its leaders to a Politico reporter, including claims that some Afghan leaders are "isolated from reality."
Politico quoted Fuller as criticizing Afghan President Hamid Karzai for saying Afghanistan would side with Pakistan against America in war.
"Why don't you just poke me in the eye with a needle?" Fuller said. "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'?"
U.S. officials have said Karzai's remarks were misunderstood.
Politico reported Fuller also as saying, in reference to Karzai, "when they are going to have a presidential election, you hope they get a guy that's more articulate."
He told Politico he recently told the Afghans: "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). 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. And I think that's part of my job, to educate 'em."
In a statement, Allen said, "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. 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."
Spokesmen for both the International Security Assistance Force and the training mission said Fuller was quoted accurately.
"Gen. Fuller was not misquoted," said Col. David Johnson, a spokesman for the American-led training mission. "What was reported by Politico is accurate."
Fuller was on his way back to Afghanistan from Washington on Friday and could not be reached for comment.
ISAF issued a statement earlier Friday that said, "These unfortunate comments are clearly MG Fuller's personal opinions. However, they in no way represent the policies or positions of the International Security and Assistance Force."
An ISAF official said it is expected that senior commanders will speak with Fuller on his return to ask him for further details. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been made aware of Fuller's comments, according to spokesman George Little.
Fuller was the deputy commander of the NATO training mission in charge of programs. That put him in command of $11 billion in equipment, supplies, training and contracts.
On the same day as the Politico article, Fuller gave a news conference in Washington where he spoke about many of the same topics as in the article but took a much more positive tone toward the Afghan government.
At a National Press Club event, the general said the Afghan National Security Forces was drawing recruits.
"We're having more people come that want to serve their country than we can accept," Fuller said. "We deny about 1,500 people a month that are coming in."