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Karzai Opposes Long-Term Presence Of Foreign Troops

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
KABUL (Reuters) -- President Hamid Karzai has said he opposed the long-term presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan, adding any new U.S. strategy to tackle militancy must involve a greater role for his government.

Some 71,000 troops under the command of the U.S. military and NATO are in Afghanistan where the Al-Qaeda-backed Taliban, ousted in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, have made a comeback since 2005.

Western commanders have not given a time frame for any troop pullout, saying it depended on how soon Afghan forces can stand on their feet.

"Ultimately, we through our forces, measures and resources should protect our land," Karzai said in response to a question about foreign forces at a news conference. "It is natural that the international community cannot stay here forever and it is not good for us that they stay [for a long time]."

'Brave Nation'

Anger has been mounting in Afghanistan after a spike in civilian casualties in coalition air strikes in recent weeks opened up a rift between the Karzai government and the Western coalition forces that back it.

"We are a country with [a history of] several thousand years and are proud of our history...and our bravery," Karai said. "Then a brave nation should not rely for long on others for its living."

Karzai said it was necessary for the United States to change its strategy.

"It means that we go to those areas which are the training bases and havens of [terrorists] and we jointly go there and remove and destroy them," he said.

His comments came a day after the U.S. military conceded it was not winning the fight against an increasingly deadly insurgency in Afghanistan and said it would revise its strategy to combat militant safe havens in Pakistan.

U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that he was "looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy for the region" that would cover both sides of the border, including Pakistan's tribal areas.

Karzai said his government has been pushing foreign troops for such a strategy for years.

Violence in Afghanistan has soared over the past three years as Al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters have regrouped in the remote region between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

New Commitment

Karzai, who attended Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's inauguration on September 10, said he had seen a new commitment on the part of Islamabad to fighting militants.

Karzai said a new U.S. strategy should give more control to his government, which is under increasing pressure over civilian casualties and for being regarded as weak.

"When we say new strategy, our purpose is to bring changes both in the regional level and inside Afghanistan," he said. "Inside Afghanistan, responsibility should belong more to Afghanistan's government, to its institutions and its security forces."

Karzai said nearly seven years since the Taliban's ouster, Afghanistan was still suffering, adding, "we all have made mistakes" and that the rising civilian casualties caused by foreign forces was the main one.

"We want civilian casualties in Afghanistan not only to be reduced, but cut totally. There should be no civilian deaths. Since only through cooperation and support of the people of Afghanistan we will succeed."

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

RFE/RL Afghanistan Report

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