Maj. General Peter Fuller Fired Over Remarks About Afghan Government
On Thursday, Politico published a little-noticed story in which the deputy commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan unloaded on the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai:
Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller, deputy commander of the American-led NATO effort to train and equip Afghan security forces, told POLITICO in an interview that top leaders in the Afghan government had not fully recognized the sacrifices in “treasure and blood” that the U.S. was making for their security and recalled that a senior Afghan official even demanded the transfer of tanks just so they could be used for parades.
The two-star general flashed irritation when he brought up Karzai’s recent remarks that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan in a war against the U.S., blasting the president’s comments as “erratic,” and adding, “Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle! 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’?”
“When they are going to have a presidential election, you hope they get a guy that’s more articulate in public,” Fuller said during a visit to Washington for a conference.
Karzai is term-limited and will not be running for another term. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Karzai’s remarks have been misunderstood.
Fuller recently involved Afghan generals in a strategic review of the U.S. mission and said that they didn’t understand the extent to which America is in economic distress.
“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],” Fuller told POLITICO. “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.”
The problem, he says, is a mentality that the Soviets left behind in Afghanistan.
“We didn’t buy them a lot of things that they had seen bought previously by the Soviets, the tanks and the jets. So they asked for them,'” Fuller said. “They say, ‘Well, the Russians gave us this.'”
Fuller says he responds by saying, “‘You’re telling us that you’re not appreciative of $11.2 billion from the U.S. this year? We have challenges going on in our own country, and this is our national treasure.'”
It reminds one of the controversy in 2010 over remarks that General Stanley McChrystal, then commanding the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, made in a Rolling Stone interview. Of course McChrystal allowed himself and his staff to be quoted openly criticizing military and civilian superiors, which led to his being summoned back to Washington in record time. Most likely due to the fact that he was a four-star with a long record, McChrystal was allowed to retire, at his current rank no less. In Fuller’s case, things didn’t go quite so smoothly:
KABUL, Afghanistan — A senior American general stationed in Afghanistan has been fired for criticizing President Hamid Karzai in a published interview.
The NATO and American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John R. Allen, announced in a news release on Saturday that he was dismissing Maj. Gen. Peter Fuller, the deputy commander for programs at the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, effective immediately. “The decision follows recent inappropriate public comments made by Major General Fuller,” General Allen said.
The statement was issued early Saturday morning in Kabul, where General Fuller had been on a speaking tour. It came shortly after a Thursday interview with the two-star American Army general was published by the news Web site Politico.
General Fuller was responding to remarks made by President Karzai a week earlier in which he told a Pakistani interviewer that Afghanistan would come to Pakistan’s aid if attacked by the United States.
“Why don’t you just poke me in the eye with a needle! You’ve got to be kidding me,” General Fuller said. “I’m sorry, we just gave you $11.6 billion and now you’re telling me, ‘I don’t really care?’ ”
General Fuller also described President Karzai as erratic and inarticulate.
It was the second time in the last year and a half that a senior American general lost his job over remarks made to a journalist. In June 2010, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was forced to resign by President Obama for remarks the general and his staff purportedly made that were critical of the White House, and which were quoted in a Rolling Stone magazine article. Aides to General McChrystal maintained the remarks were intended to be off the record.
That was not an issue in the Politico article, and no one argued that General Fuller was misquoted. “As far as we know, that was the statement he made, the inappropriate comments he made that were published,” said Lt. Col. Jimmie E. Cummings Jr., a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force here. “As far as we know, it was on the record.”
Added General Allen, in the statement, “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.”
Colonel Cummings said General Allen made the decision to relieve General Fuller on his own, and not in response to any reaction or pressure from President Karzai or the Afghan government.
Fuller’s comments were clearly not appropriate for the second in command of a U.S. expeditionary force in a sovereign nation and putative ally, regardless of the fact that they largely seem to be completely accurate. What this means for his future career in the military, I’m not entire sure but it doesn’t appear he’ll have the smooth landing that McChrystal has largely because of the lower rank.