KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai summoned Washington's ambassador in Kabul to protest a fellow American diplomat's remarks that Afghanistan is experiencing a civil war, the U.S. Embassy confirmed Wednesday.

The comments by James Dobbins, the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, struck a nerve among Afghan leaders because they are trying to ease growing fears about what will happen once U.S.-led foreign troops complete their withdrawal from this country next year.

Already, as foreign troops have reduced their presence, Taliban militants have stepped up attacks, and some fear that the years after the 2014 withdrawal could see a return to the bloody civil war of the early 1990s, when ethnic-based factions fought one another for control of the country. The Afghan Taliban are dominated by ethnic Pashtuns, who have long had a rivalry with Tajiks and other ethnic groups in Afghanistan.

In a recent interview with Voice of America's Deewa news service, Dobbins said, "there already is, of course, a civil war in Afghanistan."

That has drawn rebukes from Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi, who argued that if Dobbins' assertion was true, then the U.S. was an actor in a civil war instead of fighting terrorism. In a news conference with local media on Tuesday that was later posted to YouTube, Faizi also noted that Dobbins' comments come at a sensitive time as the U.S. and Afghanistan are aiming to sign a deal that could leave some foreign troops in place after 2014.

U.S. Ambassador James Cunningham was summoned to the presidency on Tuesday over the matter, the embassy confirmed.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Robert Hilton declined to characterize the meeting, but the mission has issued multiple statements downplaying Dobbins' remarks. Its latest says the envoy was merely using "a standard academic term in the context of describing the need for Afghans to speak to Afghans to achieve peace."

"Ambassador Dobbins was not attempting to define the conflict in Afghanistan, nor to suggest that the United States is involved in a civil war," the statement also says. "The United States is in Afghanistan to fight terrorism and to support the stability of Afghanistan."