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As U.S. Visit Ends, Karzai Says 'Right Approach' Being Taken In Kandahar

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the U.S. State Department on May 11

WASHINGTON -- As his Washington visit winds down, Afghan President Hamid Karzai says he believes U.S. and Afghan officials have "adopted the right approach" to the upcoming U.S.-led offensive in Kandahar.

The approach, he said on the eve of his departure, will focus on capacity-building for the government before possible military operations get under way.

The Afghan president made the comments May 13 during a joint appearance with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the United States Institute of Peace, a Washington think tank.

"It has, since the past week, adopted the right approach. When I say 'it,' I mean the Afghan and international forces," Karzai said. "We are talking of a process there, and the process means bringing conditions to Kandahar and the region around where there is better government, better resources, more active, vigorous, vibrant intelligence activity -- and then, if, and when, and where needed, an operation militarily."

Those operations, Karzai added, would be "in consultation with the community and backed by the community."

Civilians First

The U.S.-led campaign to root out terrorist pockets in the southern city of Kandahar is expected to begin in June and last through August.

U.S. officials see success in the city as key to quashing the insurgency, for which Kandahar is a spiritual home, ahead of an eventual transfer of security responsibility to homegrown forces.

Clinton said that the approach to Kandahar would differ from the approach to Taliban-dominated Marjah because of the nature of the city's insurgents, which she described as a disruptive force interwoven into Kandahar's daily life.

Citing the commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, Clinton said the Kandahar offensive "is going to be an action that is going to use different tools, because the goal is to root out from what is a very active and ongoing urban area those who intimidate." She said the strategy was not to "destroy Kandahar in the effort to save Kandahar," adding that, "in any counterinsurgency, the goal is to win the confidence of the people."

Last month, statements made by the Afghan president raised concern in the United States when he said that locals would have veto power over the offensive.

Successful Talks

Karzai and Clinton spoke as the nearly weeklong visit by the Afghan president was winding down.

Karzai, accompanied by a delegation of top government ministers, was extended a particularly warm welcome by the White House, which has tried to repair the recent rift in bilateral relations.

The Afghan president shocked U.S. officials in early April with anti-Western comments about the UN and international community's role in disputed presidential elections last summer. According to several lawmakers present for his remarks, he also threatened to join the Taliban if foreign interference in his government continued.

This week, U.S. President Barack Obama said that perceived differences between the countries was "overstated" and have not affected shared goals of stamping out terrorism and promoting stability in Afghanistan.

Obama also expressed support for the consultative peace jirga, or gathering, scheduled for late this month, which will mark the first step in the potential reintegration of low-level Taliban fighters into mainstream Afghan society.

In broad ranging talks, U.S. and Afghan officials discussed civilian casualties, economic development, women's rights, and plans for next summer's planned withdrawal of international troops.

During his visit, Karzai paid his respects to U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan at Arlington National Cemetery and made a visit to the floor of the U.S. Senate, a rarity for a foreign head of state.

Before joining the Afghan president at the United States Institute of Peace, Clinton met with female Afghan ministers and vowed not to let women's rights be sacrificed in reintegration plans with former Taliban members.

Alongside Clinton, Karzai said that both sides had agreed to a January 1, 2011, start date for the transfer of coalition-run detention centers to Afghan control. He said a timeline for completion of the transfer had not yet been drawn up.

Karzai also touted his country's prospects for financial growth, which he said he hopes will lead to a transfer of a different kind. He predicted that "within three years, Afghanistan will be paying its civil services, its military, and police forces from its own pocket," something he said "will be a tremendous achievement."

Then, he said, the United States can expect Afghan officials to return to ask for investments.

Karzai leaves the United States on May 14. Before he heads back to Kabul, he will travel to Kentucky to visit the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, which is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan over the next several weeks.