Fuller's exit is a setback for the effort to train Afghan security forces [Reuters]

Major General Peter Fuller, a top US commander in Afghanistan, has been relieved of his duties after making comments critical of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a senior US defence official has said.

US General John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force [ISAF], relieved Fuller as deputy commander of the effort to train Afghan security forces after Fuller told the Politico website that Afghan leaders were "isolated from reality," the official said.

The interview, published on Thursday, depicted Fuller as critical of Karzai's recent comments suggesting that Afghanistan would side with Pakistan if it went to war with the US.

In the interview, Fuller depicted Afghan officials as detached and unappreciative of US sacrifices and financial contributions to Afghanistan after 10 years of war.

"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 $11.6bn and now you're telling me, 'I don't really care?'"

The interview also quotes Fuller as saying Afghanistan did not recognise the sacrifice in "treasure and blood" the US was making for its security.

Personal remarks

George Little, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Friday that defence secretary Leon Panetta was aware of the remarks and Fuller had been speaking for himself and not the US defence department.

"The secretary has full trust and confidence in General Allen's judgment with respect to his decision in this case," Little said.

It is not first time the tenure of a US general has ended abruptly under a similar cloud.

In July 2010, Barack Obama, the US president, fired General Stanley McChrystal, then commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, over remarks he and his aides made in an explosive Rolling Stone magazine article that disparaged the president and other civilian leaders.

While Fuller's job was far less senior than McChrystal's, the training of Afghan security forces has become an increasingly central part of NATO's mission as foreign forces gradually seek to put Afghan soldiers and police in charge of security.

Afghan security forces are far more numerous than they were, and better skilled, but they still suffer from inadequate fighting skills and subpar equipment.

While Obama plans to remove the 33,000 extra troops he sent following a 2009 review of Afghan war strategy, security conditions remain troubling.

The UN says violence is at its worst level since the war began in 2001.

Source: Agencies