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Obama and Karzai: 'On the same page' or at 'the end of the rope'?

President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai had starkly different public appraisals of a conversation Friday, raising doubts about where Afghan leader really stands.

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai (l.) listens to a family member of Afghan civilians who were killed Sunday by a US soldier in Panjwai in Kandahar Province, at the presidential palace in Kabul Friday.

Ahmad Jamshid/AP

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President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued starkly diverging appraisals of US-Afghanistan relations Friday, pointing to the extent of the impact from last weekend’s shooting rampage in which a US soldier is accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the two leaders “were very much on the same page” in an early morning phone call that Mr. Obama placed Friday to Mr. Karzai.

By contrast, the Afghan leader told family members of Sunday’s shooting victims assembled at the presidential palace in Kabul that US-Afghan relations are at “the end of the rope.”

The deepening tensions surfaced the same day the alleged shooter in Sunday’s rampage, whom reports have identified as Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, was being flown to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas to await charges. Afghan officials had demanded that the shooter face trial in Afghanistan, but he was quickly whisked out of the country after the shooting.

The villagers told Karzai that the killings were not the result of a lone gunman, which contradicts the US military’s version of events. Karzai said US cooperation and sharing of information on the massacre has been “poor.”

The two leaders’ discussion focused on Karzai’s demand Thursday that foreign troops pull back from Afghan villages – a shift that, if carried out, would throw into disarray NATO’s counterinsurgency strategy of operating alongside Afghan security forces to train them while winning over Afghan “hearts and minds.”

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