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Karzai Takes Issue with Civilian Casualties in US-Led War

By Ravi Khanna
06 May 2009

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington for talks with President Obama on Washington's new strategy to resolve the Afghan conflict. Before joining his Pakistani counterpart, who is also in Washington for talks, Mr. Karzai spoke to a gathering at the Brookings Institution.

Bombing raids by US-led coalition forces killed and injured dozens of Afghan civilians, including children, as they were taking shelter from fighting between Taliban militants and international forces.

The U.S. confirmed fighting on Monday in western Afghanistan and said reports of civilian deaths were under investigation.

Civilian casualties are an issue between the US and Afghanistan, said Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who's in Washington for talks with President Obama. He said the war against terrorism must be fought from what he called a higher platform of morality.

Speaking at a Washington research institute, he acknowledged ups and downs in US-Afghan relations.

"There were difficult moments between us over civilian casualties," he said.

He said people in Afghanistan want US forces to avoid civilian casualties, but they also want the Americans to stay.

President Karzai said Afghanistan should not be a burden forever on the United States. He said that is the main element in President Obama's new strategy, including what he called a "civilian surge."

"Civilian surge means sending your experts to Afghanistan to build Afghan capacity, to add to Afghan ability to produce better in agriculture, water management and all other economic activity," he added.

The U.S. is also sending about 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan to fight Taliban insurgents in their strongholds.

President Obama's special representative on Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke spoke about the additional troops before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

"I believe the troops will make an enormous difference," he noted. "They are going into a very difficult area. They are well prepared for it and well led. I know the commanders, they will displace the Taliban as long as they are there."

But Pakistan fears that the additional troops will prompt insurgents to flee into Pakistan. Mr. Karzai said Washington will have to allay those fears.

He said he plans to raise these issues during talks this week with President Obama and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

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