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Afghan Leader Says More U.S. Forces 'Too Late'

Hamid Karzai

Hamid Karzai

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said in an interview that he welcomes the U.S. deployment of 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, but says efforts to stabilize the country are "seven years too late."

Violence is at its highest level in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001. A United Nations report warned last week that security may worsen this year in the face of a renewed insurgency.

In an interview on the public television news program "News Hour with Jim Lehrer," Karzai said he had been asking for more NATO-led troops to provide security since 2002.

"We kept requesting. It didn't happen. I wish these troops have arrived at that time. They're seven years too late," Karzai responded when asked whether he welcomed the additional American forces.

"Even then, for them to come and provide better security to the Afghan people, protect the borders, prevent the crossing of terrorists into Afghanistan, they're welcome to do that," Karzai added, speaking in his office in Kabul.

Almost 70,000 foreign troops under NATO and U.S. command have joined tens of thousands of Afghan forces in the fight against the Taliban-led insurgency.

Karzai said he welcomed U.S. President Barack Obama's Afghanistan policy review and hopes any new strategy will include measures to strengthen Afghanistan's security forces.

"We keep hearing that it may have an element of adding to the Afghan forces, both the police and the army. That's a good thing; we welcome it," Karzai said.

The White House has declined comment on the policy review. “The New York Times” reported one option under consideration is doubling the Afghan security force to about 400,000 troops and national police.

Karzai, who faces elections within the next five months, said he has not decided where he will run for president.

"I will decide based on whether I'm the better person to run -- to continue to run for this country or whether there are other possibilities for Afghanistan to choose," he said.