The Obama administration on Monday continued to express its frustration over a series of anti-American comments made by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, including insinuations that he might join the Taliban.
"On behalf of the American people, we're frustrated," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs during Monday morning's press gaggle. "As I said on Friday, the remarks are genuinely troubling."
Tensions between Karzai and the Obama administration have been mounting in recent days even as direct diplomacy between the two governments escalates. Following a recent trip by President Obama to Afghanistan and a high-stakes phone call from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Karzai expressed deep and provocative criticism of America's role in his country. The Afghan president took swipes at his Western backers on Saturday during a private meeting with fellow lawmakers, going so far as to suggest that U.S. involvement in his country would compel him to legitimatize the Taliban and even perhaps join the insurgency.
On Monday, Gibbs stressed that Karzai's remarks would not endanger America's commitment to Afghanistan, saying that a May 12 White House meeting with the Afghan president is still on schedule and that there has been no discussion of pulling out troops.
"We will continue to work with President Karzai and others in the Afghan leadership to take the steps that are necessary to ensure that as our military... makes security gains that the governance structure is in place to hold those gains," Gibbs said. "President Karzai is the democratically-elected leader of Afghanistan. We will continue to work with him and others to meet the benchmarks that we feel they have to in order to ensure the security of the Afghan people."
But even as Gibbs sought to defuse tensions, contemporaneous events continued to set off flares. On Sunday night, the New York Times picked up on a report that U.S. forces covered up the death of three Afghan women during a special operations assault in February. In a particularly disturbing scene, the soldiers reportedly went so far as to remove bullets from the dead bodies.
How badly would the story (on top of other instances of civilian casualties) damage already fraying relations?
"Look," said Gibbs, "without getting into the specifics about special operations. I think you've heard General [Stanley] McChrystal, Ambassador [Karl] Eikenberry and others discuss the deep sympathy we have when civilians are harmed or killed."
Wasn't the president himself troubled by these reports, the Huffington Post asked.
"I'm not going to get into discussing special ops," Gibbs replied.