Holbrooke meets Karzai amid strained ties

February 15th, 2009 - 1:01 am ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaKabul, Feb 14 (DPA) US President Barack Obama’s envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan met Afghan President Hamid Karzai Saturday evening to discuss strategies in the fight against terrorism, amid heightened political tensions between Kabul and Washington.

Neither Karzai nor envoy Richard Holbrooke made any public statements following their meeting. Siamak Herawi, a presidential spokesman earlier, had said that coordination among the international troops in Afghanistan and civilian casualties caused during NATO’s anti-Taliban operations would be discussed.

The meeting came a day after Karzai admitted that he had not spoken to Obama since the new US president assumed office last month and said that ties between his and the US administration had been strained.

Holbrooke, who arrived in Afghanistan Thursday on his first trip since being appointed envoy, held a series of informal talks with influential Afghan leaders, including security chiefs, military commanders, lawmakers and key politicians including some from opposition groups Friday.

Regarded once as a darling of the West, Karzai enjoyed a favoured status during the administration of former US president George W. Bush, holding twice-a-month teleconferences with him.

“There is tension between us and the US government on issues of civilian casualties, arrests of Afghans, nightly raids on homes and the casualties they cause,” Karzai said in an interview with Sir David Frost on al-Jazeera television Friday.

Karzai has repeatedly said in the past weeks that the main issue that has put him at odds with Obama’s administration was the mounting civilian casualties caused during US and NATO operations against the resurgent Taliban.

More than 2,000 civilians were among the more than 5,000 people killed in Afghanistan during conflicts in 2008.

Karzai has also recently pressed the US military to use Afghan troops while conducting night-time operations against suspected Taliban hideouts. He also wants Afghans to carry out the search and arrest of Afghan villagers suspected of having ties with Taliban.

On Thursday, the Afghan defence ministry and NATO military said in a joint statement that both sides have agreed to give a greater role to Afghan forces in such operations.

“The parties have agreed to include more Afghan representatives in the planning and execution of counter-terrorism missions, with more attention particularly to night operations, actions in populated areas and searches,” the statement said.

“There will be better coordination to minimise risk of civilian casualties and ensure Afghans search Afghan homes and conduct arrest operations,” a joint US-Afghan statement said. It wasn’t yet clear how soon Afghans would be placed on those missions.

But many believe that the new downward spiral in relations between Kabul and Washington has been caused by Western frustration with the inability of Karzai’s government to curb endemic administrative corruption, drug production and the worsening security situation.

Holbrooke, who is renowned for his role in the Dayton peace agreement in Bosnia and known for not mincing words, is expected to reverse the situation in the country by making it clear to Kabul that the winds in Washington have changed.

As a presidential candidate, Obama had said that he would switch the US military focus from Iraq to Afghanistan.

Holbrooke is on a fact-finding tour of the region to discuss strategies for fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups.

He is expected to report his findings to Washington, before President Obama announces the deployment of tens of thousands of extra US forces to the war-ravaged country.

Up to 30,000 additional US troops are expected to be deployed to Afghanistan in the next 18 months to bolster international forces, which already number 70,000, in quelling the Taliban-led insurgency.

Holbrooke visited Islamabad this week and is expected to travel to New Delhi before ending his regional tour.

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