Afghan leaders back under-fire general

Firing General Stanley McChrystal would disrupt progress in the Afghan war and could jeopardise a pivotal security operation under way in Taliban strongholds, leaders in the country said today.

At the end of a one-hour video conference with President Barack Obama last night, Afghan president Hamid Karzai expressed his confidence in the top Nato commander in Afghanistan.

Gen McChrystal was summoned to Washington to explain disparaging comments published in Rolling Stone magazine that he and his top aides made about Mr Obama's national security team.

But while Gen McChrystal, who was meeting Mr Obama today, was harshly scolded by his superiors in the United States, officials in Afghanistan rallied to his support.

They said he had increased cooperation between Afghan and international troops, worked to reduce civilian casualties and gained the trust of the Afghan people.

Mr Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omar said: "The president believes that we are in a very sensitive juncture in the partnership, in the war on terror and in the process of bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan, and any gap in this process will not be helpful.

"We hope there is not a change of leadership of the international forces here in Afghanistan and that we continue to partner with Gen McChrystal."

Mr Karzai's younger half-brother Ahmad Wali Karzai, head of the Kandahar provincial council, backed Gen McChrystal, telling reporters in Kandahar that his leadership would be sorely missed.

"If he is fired, it will disrupt the operation," Ahmad Wali Karzai said. "It definitely will affect it. He (McChrystal) started all this, and he has a good relationship with the people.

"The people trust him and we trust him. If we lose this important person, I don't think that this operation will work in a positive way."

In Kabul, Afghan defence ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi also publicly voiced his support for the general.

He said: "Since Gen McChrystal took over the job as commander of the international forces, there have been a lot of changes in different departments, which are very important and positive.

"For example, there has been a decrease in the numbers of civilian casualties and we're still working jointly with McChrystal to decrease it further."