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New U.S. Envoy In Afghanistan To Talk Security

Holbrooke met with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari on his South Asian tour
KABUL (Reuters) -- The new U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, is set to meet key security ministers in the Afghan capital at the start of a three-day fact-finding mission, an Afghan official said.

Holbrooke, who arrived in Kabul after four days in Pakistan, has so far been tight-lipped during his first trip to the region in his new role as President Barack Obama's point man on the conflict, which has become a U.S. foreign-policy priority.

On his first day in Afghanistan, Holbrooke is to meet the ministers of defense and interior and the head of the national intelligence agency, before meeting President Hamid Karzai on February 14, the official said.

Holbrooke faces a tough task in Afghanistan. Top of the list of problems is finding ways to stem the Taliban insurgency that has forced a stalemate on international forces in the south and has spread its influence to the outskirts of the capital.

While Washington is considering whether to almost double its troops in Afghanistan to some 60,000, the U.S. government recognizes there is no purely military solution to the conflict and more must be done to bring development and effective government to a country scarred by nearly 30 years of war.

Complicating that task is the diplomatic conundrum of trying to ease the rivalry between Pakistan and India that helps fuel the conflict in Afghanistan, while seeking to accommodate regional powers Iran and Russia and maintain an alliance of more than 40 nations.

Holbrooke, famed for negotiating the 1995 Dayton accord that ended the war in Bosnia, has admitted Afghanistan is a "tougher challenge than Iraq."

Security was tight ahead of Holbrooke's visit after a triple suicide bombing and gun raids on government buildings that killed 26 people in Kabul on February 11.

Violence in Afghanistan has reached its worst levels since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban in 2001. The United Nations says some 5,000 people, including more than 2,000 civilians, were killed in fighting last year.