ABOARD A US MILITARY AIRCRAFT - Progress in Afghanistan has cost thousands of military lives and it would be helpful if Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed gratitude for that sacrifice, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Friday, bluntly rejecting the Afghan leader's recent criticism of the war effort.

"We have made progress in Afghanistan because there are men and women in uniform who have been willing to fight and die for Afghanistan's sovereignty and their right to govern and secure themselves," Panetta told reporters aboard his plane to Latin America. Panetta noted that 2,000 US troops were among those who had been killed in the war, which has been spearheaded by the United States, NATO allies and the Afghanistan government.

"Those lives were lost fighting the right enemy, not the wrong enemy," Panetta said. "And I think it would be helpful if the president every once and awhile expressed his thanks for the sacrifices that have been made by those who have fought and died for Afghanistan, rather than criticizing them."

The remarks came a day after Karzai told a news conference in Kabul that the United States was playing a double game in his country by fighting the war in Afghan villages rather than going after those in Pakistan who support insurgents. "NATO and Afghanistan should fight this war where terrorism stems from," Karzai said in remarks reported by The New York Times. "But the United States is not ready to go and fight the terrorists there. This shows the double game. They say one thing and do something else."

Tensions between Washington and Kabul have risen in recent weeks, driven in part by an increase in attacks by Afghan troops on their US and international counterparts as well as tensions over uncertainty about the coming withdrawal of international forces by the end of 2014.

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