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Karzai Urges West To Review Afghan War Strategy

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) with U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden
KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the killing of civilians by foreign troops was a main source of instability in Afghanistan, and urged the West to review its strategy in fighting the Taliban and delivering aid.

Western politicians have recently stepped up their criticism about endemic corruption and poor governance by Karzai's administration, which has ruled Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

Karzai, facing elections due in September, has hit back, denouncing the repeated accidental killing of Afghan civilians in air strikes by U.S. and NATO forces.

"This persecutes us," Karzai said of the killings. "Our international friends should know that it is a physical and mental obsession," he told the annual opening of parliament.

Nearly 2,000 civilians were killed in fighting in Afghanistan last year, security experts say. Overall, more than 5,000 people were killed in 2008 in the deadliest year of fighting since the U.S.-led invasion.

NATO and the U.S. military, which have some 70,000 troops in Afghanistan, must "review the military and security strategy" by coordinating operations with the Afghan government in order to cut the number of civilian casualties, Karzai said.

The president said he had raised the issue of civilian casualties and good governance with U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden during his visit to Afghanistan last week. Biden proposed the formation of a bilateral commission to tackle the issues, Karzai said.

President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office later on January 20, has pledged to make Afghanistan a top policy priority.

'Fed Up'

While far more civilians are killed in Taliban attacks than in foreign air strikes, Karzai's government and foreign troops are often blamed by ordinary Afghans for failing to bring security and stopping the wave of militant suicide attacks.

The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Sibghatullah Mojadidi, warned of further unrest if civilian casualties were not stopped.

"We are fed up...this is really an important issue and I fear that, God forbid, the Afghan nation will rise up. I have told my American brothers and friends to exercise caution and if the nation does rise, the situation will be worse than Iraq," he told parliament.

Karzai said administrative corruption, the booming drug trade, and attacks by Taliban insurgents were the other main sources of instability.

Karzai conceded there was corruption within his government, but added the problem was more pronounced in the handling of international aid.

Less corruption in international aid and development contracts would also reduce graft within his government, Karzai said, urging donors to channel more assistance through his administration.

Karzai called on Taliban-led insurgents to give up resistance against his government and foreign troops, and vowed to protect "the honor and property" of those who did so.

The Taliban insurgency has spread from the south and east in the last two years to areas closer to the capital, Kabul. They have rejected Karzai's repeated peace offers.