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Obama Assures Karzai On Security

Obama and Karzai in July 2008

Obama and Karzai in July 2008

KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Barack Obama told Afghan President Hamid Karzai he would make it a priority to fight terrorism and bring security to Afghanistan and the region, the Afghan presidential palace said on Sunday.

Obama has pledged a new focus on Afghanistan when he becomes president in January, but while still a candidate he criticized Karzai for failing to tackle corruption, the booming drugs trade and for "not getting out of the bunker" to govern effectively.

But Obama assured Karzai of more U.S. cooperation with the Afghan government to combat terrorism and bring security.

"Obama said America will increase its commitment to bring security and stability to the government and people of Afghanistan," the Afghan president said in a statement after the two spoke on the telephone late on Saturday.

"Obama also emphasized that combating terrorism and bringing security to Afghanistan, the region and the world would be a priority of his government," the statement said.

Seven years since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the austere Islamist Taliban for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leaders behind the Sept. 11 attacks, the militants have bounced back extending both the scale and scope of their insurgency.

More than 4,000 people, around a third of them civilians, have been killed in Afghanistan this year as some 70,000 foreign troops backing Afghan security forces struggle to put down a Taliban insurgency that has spawned dozens of suicide bombs.

Western leaders have grown increasingly impatient with Karzai who has ruled Afghanistan since 2002, saying his failure to crack down on rampant corruption and the drugs trade and to govern effectively is fueling the Taliban insurgency.

Karzai has hit back saying the killing of dozens of civilians in NATO and U.S.-coalition air strikes weakens support for his government and boosts the Taliban.