Afghan leader presses US military on strategy

By: AP
By: AP

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- President Hamid Karzai pressed America's top military leader Monday on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and preparations to pour up to 30,000 more forces into the country, reflecting Karzai's concerns over civilian casualties and operations in villages. Karzai asked Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, what kinds of operations the newly deployed troops would carry out and told him that the Afghan government should be consulted about those missions.

The Afghan president, stinging from a series of civilian casualties in U.S. military operations in recent years, said he doubts that sending more American forces into Afghan villages will tamp down the insurgency, and he has questioned a U.S. plan to deploy 3,500 U.S. forces in two provinces on Kabul's doorstep next month.

Karzai told Mullen that U.S. troops must take more care during operations in Afghan villages and stop searching Afghan homes. He asked the chairman to investigate allegations that U.S. forces killed three civilians in a raid last week in Khost province, a reflection of increasing concern about civilian casualties. The U.S. says three militants were killed.

Karzai wants more forces deployed along the Afghan border to combat insurgents infiltrating from Pakistan, where suspected U.S. missile strikes Monday killed eight people in a region where al-Qaida and Taliban leaders are believed hiding.

The identities of those killed in the two attacks - the latest in a stepped-up American campaign in the lawless region - were not immediately known.

During the weekend, Mullen said the U.S. would send an additional 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Afghanistan by summer - the largest number ever given by a top military leader - in an increase in force that reflects the deteriorating security situation around the country more than seven years after the U.S. invasion.

President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of ending the war in Iraq and refocusing American's military efforts on the Afghanistan region.

But with Karzai casting doubt on how many U.S. troops should operate in the country, it's not clear whether the two leaders will share a similar vision for the direction of the Afghan effort.

Karzai's office said Mullen told the president the new troops would be sent to dangerous regions with little security, particularly along the Pakistan border, to prevent insurgent infiltration.

Mullen told reporters Saturday that NATO and the U.S. have "enough forces to be successful in combat, but we haven't had enough forces to hold the territory that we clear."

But Karzai has signaled he is wary of more U.S. forces operating among ordinary Afghans.

The U.S. next month will deploy around 3,500 forces into two provinces on Kabul's doorstep - in Wardak and Logar, two areas that have seen a massive infiltration of militants in the last year. But Karzai says U.S. troops are not needed there.

"Sending more troops to the Afghan cities, to the Afghan villages, will not solve anything. Sending more troops to control the border, is sensible, makes sense," Karzai told the Chicago Tribune last week. "That is where I need help. I don't need help anywhere else."

Diplomats in Kabul say Karzai, who is running for re-election next year, is making increasing overtures to his base of voters, and it's not clear what statements are for domestic consumption and what are actual demands for the international community to follow.

The U.S. will also send thousands of troops to Helmand province - the world's largest opium poppy growing region and the center of the Taliban resistance. Karzai told Mullen he thinks troops should go there.

The Taliban militia and other militants have gained steam in the last two years and now control wide swaths of territory in the country. A record number of U.S. troops have died in combat this year, and suicide and roadside bombs are deadlier than ever.

Although insurgents have nowhere near enough power to defeat U.S. or NATO troops in battle, the country is too big - and international forces too few - to occupy much territory and keep regions militant-free permanently. Afghanistan's security forces, though growing, are still too small and weak to protect the whole country.

Still, it's clear Karzai is unhappy with the level of coordination between U.S. and Afghan forces.

Col. Jerry O'Hara, a U.S. military spokesman, said more than 60 percent of U.S. missions are led by Afghan forces.

"We strive to do coordination and consultation to the best of our abilities, given that this is a partnership," he said.

The deployment of 20,000 to 30,000 U.S. troops will raise the number of American forces in Afghanistan to the 50,000 to 60,000 range. Another 30,000 troops from 40 other countries currently operate in Afghanistan, although the bulk of the fighting forces are from the U.S., Britain, Canada, France and the Netherlands.

Violence in Afghanistan has risen sharply the last two years. More than 6,100 people, mostly militants, have died in insurgency related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Afghan and Western officials.

Monday's missiles in Pakistan struck about five miles apart just south of Wana, the main town in the South Waziristan tribal area, said local security official Bakht Janan. A house and a vehicle were destroyed in the attacks that killed four people in each site, he said.

The U.S. has carried out more than 30 missile strikes since August in Pakistan's lawless, semiautonomous tribal areas, targeting al-Qaida and Taliban militants.

While the missiles have killed scores of militants, Pakistan has criticized them as an infringement of its sovereignty and says it undermines its own battle against extremism.


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