Newly appointed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has canceled his first scheduled press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Officials have cited "security concerns" for the cancellation, but the decision came just hours after Karzai contentiously accused the U.S. of colluding with the Taliban to justify a military presence in Afghanistan.
On Sunday, the Afghan president charged that the U.S. was in daily talks with the Taliban and that insurgent suicide attacks enabled the U.S.-led international military force to justify its presence in Afghanistan.
The Guardian noted that Afghan officials have called foul on the U.S. "security concerns" excuse for canceling the news conference:
Afghan officials said the presidential palace, where the men planned to meet the press, was totally safe.
"It doesn't make any sense," said one Afghan official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to discuss the sensitive issue. "It was supposed to take place at the palace, we don't see any security problems there."
The new defense secretary's visit to Afghanistan was marked by a suicide bombing on Friday, which killed nine people while Hagel was in a briefing at a nearby U.S. military base in the city. In a televised speech Sunday, Karzai said the attack was evidence of U.S. collusion with the Taliban:
"The explosions in Kabul and Khost yesterday showed that they [the Taliban] are at the service of America," Karzai said. "They are trying to frighten us into thinking that if the foreigners are not in Afghanistan, we would be facing these sorts of incidents."
NATO and U.S. officials have vociferously denied Karzai's accusations. "We have fought too hard over the past 12 years, we have shed too much blood over the last 12 years, to ever think that violence or instability would be to our advantage," Gen. Joseph Dunford, a U.S. and NATO commander told reporters.
However, Hagel's spokesman stressed that “the press conference was not canceled because of the [Afghan] president's recent comments."