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Karzai To Attend Afghanistan Meeting, Ankara Talks

Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai

KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai will attend a conference in the Netherlands next week, where the United States, the UN, and Afghanistan's neighbors, including possibly Iran, are to discuss ways to end the Afghan conflict.

Karzai will also travel to the Turkish capital in early April, a spokesman for the Afghan president also has said, but declined to say whether the trip to Ankara would coincide with a visit there by U.S. President Barack Obama on April 5-7.

The flurry of diplomatic activity comes as the United States is due to unveil its new strategy on Afghanistan and Pakistan that is expected to include a greater emphasis on economic assistance, more troops, and a regional diplomatic approach.

Obama has also said the strategic review would contain an exit strategy. Mosts analysts see the only way out of Afghanistan for the West in the long-term is to build up the Afghan Army and police to the point where they can take a greater security role.

Afghan officials declined to make specific comments on the new U.S. strategy before it is officially announced.

"We have yet to see the strategy, so I don't want to prejudge an outcome that we have not seen," said Karzai's spokesman Humayun Hamidzada.

Afghanistan's foreign minister traveled to the United States last month to give Kabul's input into the review of policy since U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban for harboring Al-Qaeda leaders after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"What were the lessons learned from the past seven years, where we actually had success, and where were our shortcomings? So it was a process, where we had a contribution," Hamidzada said of the strategy review meeting.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari is also due to attend the Ankara meeting, diplomats said, part of a series of talks hosted by Turkey to try to bring the two often feuding U.S. allies closer together to combat the Taliban insurgency that threatens both the neighbors.

Afghanistan is suffering its worst levels of violence since 2001, with Afghan forces and 70,000 international troops engaged in daily firefights with Taliban insurgents mainly in the south and east, who have also launched scores of suicide bomb attacks.

Some 5,000 people, including more than 2,100 civilians, were killed last year alone, a 40 percent rise on 2007, the United Nations says. Sixty-eight foreign soldiers have been killed so far this year, far higher than any other year in the same period.