By Mike Mount
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is not in an enviable position.
The man who has led the country for nearly 10 years is a difficult politician to deal with for the most part.
Beyond his seemingly outrageous comments toward the United States, he has also been called corrupt and often impossible to predict.
In his latest eyebrow-raiser following a bomb blast in Kabul that killed at least nine people, Karzai said on Sunday there are "ongoing daily talks between Taliban, American and foreigners in Europe and in the Gulf states."
The comment effectively claimed the United States was trying to foment continued violence inside Afghanistan.
The top commander of U.S. and allied forces, Gen. Joseph Dunford, quickly denounced the remark.
CNN Wire Staff
The United States has acted to transfer to Afghanistan's custody the prisoners it is holding in that country, but a top commander says those who pose a threat will not be moved.
The issue of custody of prisoners in Afghanistan has long been a sticking point between the two countries ahead of a planned withdrawal of American troops in 2014.
There was White House support to see the transfers through, but unease crept in after Afghan President Hamid Karzai said many of the prisoners are innocent and promised to release them.
By Ben Brumfield
An explosion rocked Kabul on Saturday, hours after the newly appointed U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel landed in the Afghan capital.
At least nine people were killed and 14 others injured, police said.
A suicide bomber apparently targeted the Afghan ministry of defense, said Charlie Stadtlander, ISAF spokesman.
By Pam Benson
The arrest of Osama bin Laden's son-in-law, who had been living in Iran for the past decade, has once again raised questions about whether the Iranian government is providing a haven or barrier to the terror group.
Al Qaeda and its members held under "house arrest" in Iran over the past decade have had a complicated relationship with the Tehran regime, one which allowed the detainees to often times continue supporting the terror group's operations in the region.
Current and former U.S. officials say al Qaeda in Iran managed to be fairly active in facilitating the movement of money and people into Pakistan where the core leadership has safe haven in tribal areas.
"They helped move people in and out of FATA through Iran for operational reasons," one former senior counter-terrorism official told CNN.
By Barbara Starr
The top U.S. commander for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region has recommended to President Obama that 13,600 American troops stay in Afghanistan after 2014, a number that is potentially higher than what the administration wants to leave in the country.
At a NATO meeting in February, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said up to 12,000 troops could stay behind, but not all of those would be American troops necessarily. But Gen. James Mattis, head of the U.S. Central Command, revealed the new recommendation to the Senate Armed Service Committee on Tuesday at a hearing.
Under an agreement between the Afghan government and NATO, the bulk of U.S. and NATO combat forces are to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. What remains to be decided is how many troops may remain to help train Afghan forces. Mattis also said he believes about 7,000 non-U.S. troops from the NATO alliance could also remain.
EDITOR'S NOTE: From 2009-2011, Mark R. Jacobson (Twitter: @markondefense) served as the Deputy NATO Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan. He is now a Senior Advisor to the Truman National Security Project and a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.
From Mark Jacobson, Special to CNN
Some senior diplomats have called Afghan President Hamid Karzai the most difficult leader the United States has dealt with in modern times. In fairness, Afghanistan itself may be one of the most complex and unforgiving political environments any leader can ever have to deal with.
And deal with him they must. Since 2010 when, at a NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, Karzai expressed the collective wish of the Afghan people for self-reliance, the United States and our allies have been moving toward Afghanistan, taking the lead on security. Both sides understood that this transition was neither going to be easy - nor completed - without disagreements about approach.
Karzai sensibly said that the "maturity" of the NATO-Afghan partnership would provide for the discussion of these anticipated difficult issues, such as detentions, civilian casualties and corruption, and that there was a premium on the need to resolve these disputes "in a spirit of collaboration and teamwork."
Unfortunately, he has continued to remain less committed to that spirit of collaboration and partnership. As a result, the international effort in support of the Afghan people may be weakening.
By Mike Mount
For the past month, the U.S. military has experienced something not seen for five years in Afghanistan: No combat deaths.
Three U.S. troops have died from hostile fire injuries since Jan. 1, and one of them succumbed to wounds sustained in December.
The trend marks the longest period without a U.S. combat death in America's longest war since 2008, and clearly reflects a strategy shift that leaves much of the fighting to Afghan security forces, whose deaths are going up.
Afghans now lead more than 80% of combat operations and control areas covering more than three-quarters of the population, according to U.S. military officials.
The U.S. military has pulled back from direct combat operations into the less dangerous role of advising and assisting Afghan forces.
American military officials said a cut in the number of American forces is another reason for the decline.
By Mike Mount
Reducing the number of Afghan security forces could lead to an increase in Taliban violence inside that country as U.S. forces prepare to leave by the end of 2014, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin said Thursday.
Austin was testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing to confirm him as the next top U.S. commander to oversee military operations in the Middle East. Austin said keeping a larger Afghan force would allow the Afghan government to mature under a bigger security umbrella.
Currently, the U.S.-led NATO operation has plans to reduce the number of Afghan forces from about 352,000 to around 230,000 after U.S. troops leave in 2014.
Afghan security forces were beefed up to improve security in tandem with the surge of U.S. troops in 2009. The larger number of Afghan troops would be too expensive to maintain and would eventually have to be reduced as security improved around the country, according to the NATO plan.
By Chelsea J. Carter and Aliza Kassim
U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford took command Sunday of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, where he will oversee the final two years of the war and the withdrawal of nearly all troops.
"Today is not about change, it's about continuity," Dunford said at a change-of-command ceremony in Kabul attended by his predecessor Marine Gen. John Allen and other senior NATO and Afghan officials.
"I'll endeavor to continue the momentum of the campaign and support the people of Afghanistan as they seize the opportunity for a brighter future."
Dunford replaces Allen, whose final days as ISAF commander were marred by an investigation linked to the scandal that led to the resignation of his predecessor David Petreaus as the director of the CIA.FULL STORY
EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN’s Jake Tapper takes viewers inside the deadly battle at Combat Outpost Keating in an exclusive interview with Romesha and others who fought off the Taliban attack. “An American Hero: The Uncommon Valor of Clint Romesha” will air Thursday, February 7th at 10pET on CNN.
Next week, President Barack Obama will award former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha the nation's highest award for combat valor for his actions in repelling a deadly insurgent onslaught in Afghanistan in October 2009. He is the fourth living recipient to receive the award for service in Iraq or Afghanistan.
In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, Romesha describes his thoughts about seeing Combat Outpost Keating for the first time. The remote outpost was at the foot of three large mountains and surrounded by a river on one side as well. By all military standards, the base was virtually impossible to defend because of the looming mountains that would ultimately give the Taliban a tactical advantage to shoot down into the base and offer deep cover to those fighters in the rocky mountainsides.
"This is a pretty indefensible spot. This is the exact opposite of when you open up the manual and look in to find the definition of finding a defensible spot, this is the total opposite of it," Romesha said in the interview with Tapper. FULL POST