Karzai calls on U.S. for more aid

Afghan leader urges end to extremism

September 26, 2006|By Richard Clough | Richard Clough,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- On a Washington trip that will pass through the White House this week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai made broad appeals yesterday for more aid to his country from the United States.

As Afghanistan faces elevated levels of sectarian violence from resurgent Taliban forces, Karzai emphasized the need for unity among U.S. and Afghan forces as they try to root out the extremists that threaten Karzai's fragile government.

"We can't liberate the country without the United States," said Karzai, who is scheduled to meet today with President Bush.

The Afghan leader spoke of the need to rid the region of madrassas - radical Islamic schools - that have indoctrinated zealous young Taliban fighters, saying, "We have to close them or do something to do away with them in order for us to be safe.

"The United States has a great role to play in that with us and with Pakistan as a partner in the war against terror," Karzai said.

Karzai met with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday at the Pentagon to discuss the U.S. role in Afghanistan as the country faces increased violence, which is at its highest level since a U.S.-led invasion overthrew the hard-line Taliban government in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In a contentious interview broadcast on Fox News Sunday, former President Bill Clinton criticized the Bush administration for keeping only 20,000 troops in Afghanistan while committing 140,000 troops to Iraq.

"If I were still president, we'd have more than 20,000 troops there," Clinton said. "Now, I've never criticized President Bush, and I don't think this is useful. But, you know, we do have a government that thinks Afghanistan is only one-seventh as important as Iraq."

Despite criticism that U.S. troop levels are not as high as they need to be to fight Taliban and al-Qaida forces, Karzai painted a relatively upbeat picture of the U.S. role in aiding the Afghan government.

"My message for the American soldiers in Afghanistan is that they have liberated us from tyranny, from terrorism, from oppression, from occupation into a country that is now moving toward prosperity, that is once again the home of all Afghans," Karzai said at a news conference with Rumsfeld.

Karzai's scheduled meeting with Bush comes on the heels of a White House visit Friday by Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The three leaders are to meet tomorrow to discuss regional strategies for the war against terrorism.

Karzai said his country needs help from Pakistan, too, if it is to rid the region of the terrorist training grounds that dot their shared border.

"Military action in Afghanistan alone is not going to free us of terrorism," he said. "Going to the sources of terrorism - where they get trained, where they get motivated, where they get financed, where they get deployed - is necessary now. I hope President Musharraf and I and those who help us around can address the problem effectively by going and simply closing them and arresting those and imprisoning those who preach hatred.

"And when money is needed, then President Bush can help us," Karzai said.

But the tension between Karzai and Musharraf will likely be on display this week, because the leaders have butted heads over what each sees as the other's failure to effectively deal with the problem of Taliban and al-Qaida militants taking refuge along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

Karzai has criticized Pakistan for doing too little to combat Taliban and al-Qaida forces in the region - a lawless area considered a breeding ground for al-Qaida and Taliban activities and the suspected hiding place of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Karzai said most terrorist training camps "are not in Afghanistan, they are mostly in Pakistan," and the resulting terrorist violence spills over into Afghanistan.

Musharraf levied his own attacks on Afghanistan at the United Nations last week, saying that "the problem lies in Afghanistan, and that is creating the problem in Pakistan."

Musharraf recently signed a treaty with pro-Taliban tribal leaders in the border region that he hopes will halt extremist activities.

But skeptical leaders in Afghanistan and the United States have expressed concern that the deal will give greater freedom to the Taliban in that area, a charge that Musharraf has denied.

Richard Clough writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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