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Karzai Says To Fight Corruption, Urges Patience

Hamid Karzai was sworn in for a fresh term as Afghan president on November 19.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has called for patience if his government could not meet a 2011 deadline for assuming responsibility for Afghan security while pledging to meet demands to fight corruption in Kabul.

U.S. President Barack Obama announced last week he would send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan but would begin bringing them home in 18 months and start handing off responsibilities to Afghan forces.

"Afghanistan welcomes this new strategy, and Afghanistan will do all it can to be a good partner in it," Karzai told CNN, according to a transcript released by the network.

Karzai said the Afghans would try their best to take over security of the country within the U.S. timetable.

"But the international community must have also the patience with us and the realization of the realities in Afghanistan. If it takes longer, then they must be with us," he said.

Karzai said he hoped Afghans would be able to lead security operations in many areas of the country within two years.

"By the end of five years term of -- of the current government, we plan to lead operations for the security of the Afghan people in all of Afghanistan, in the whole country. That is our objective," he said.

Obama, who faces criticism from his fellow Democrats and opposition Republicans about the troop decision, put pressure on Karzai to root out corruption in his administration.

The U.S. president said in a televised speech on December 1 that the day of providing a "blank check" to Kabul were over.

Karzai said he was addressing the problem, but accused some allies, which he did not name, of overemphasizing the issue.

"The issue of corruption has been politically overplayed by some of our partners in the international community," he said.

Karzai's reputation was severely damaged after a UN-backed inquiry found nearly a third of votes cast for him in an August 20 election were fake. He pledged in his inauguration speech to name competent and honest ministers. His cabinet is expected to be named in the coming days.

"If and when at any time there is an occasion where we need to act on corruption with ministers, with officials, with anybody, we will do that," he said.

Asked whether he planned to fire corrupt officials, Karzai said, "I have fired people, and I will be firing people, yes."

Karzai said his country did not expect a "blank check" from the West.

"So we are not used to a blank check, and we are not expecting one, but we welcome any cooperation that comes from our allies toward the stability and progress and well-being of the Afghan people," he said.