AFGHANISTAN Karzai questions need for foreign military
The president called for a 'stronger political approach.'
KABUL, Afghanistan -- President Hamid Karzai questioned Tuesday the need for further international military operations in Afghanistan, while the top U.S. military commander here predicted more fighting as Islamic insurgents continue to mount attacks and U.S.-led forces respond with offensives against them.
Karzai, speaking at a news conference two days after landmark parliamentary elections were held with minimal disruption, called instead for a "stronger political approach" focused on shutting down militant training camps and funding sources outside the country.
Although he declined to specify any locations of militant support, in the past aides to Karzai have expressed his concern that Pakistan is serving as a haven for insurgents linked to the ousted extremist Islamic Taliban regime.
The president, who stressed that Afghanistan would need international assistance for years to come, also repeated past demands that foreign troops stop searching Afghan homes without authorization from his government. He also suggested that airstrikes, still sporadically employed by the U.S. military and periodically resulting in civilian casualties, are ineffective.
"The nature of the war on terrorism has changed now," said Karzai. "We do not think there is a serious terrorist challenge emanating from Afghanistan."
Among the reasons he listed was a growing sense among Afghans that they are in control of their political destiny with the adoption of a constitution last January, the country's first democratic presidential elections last October, and the first parliamentary elections in three decades, held Sunday.
Taliban militants failed to follow through on a vow to derail Sunday's voting; suspected insurgents carried out only a handful of rocket attacks and ambushes. However, since the spring the Taliban militia has reasserted itself with greater force than at any point since its defeat by U.S.-led troops in 2001. Hundreds of civilians, government workers, Afghan police and soldiers have been killed in almost daily roadside bombings and ambushes across the south and east, cutting off large swathes of the country from foreign aid.
U.S. and Afghan forces have responded with an aggressive campaign to root militants out of their longtime mountain redoubts, killing hundreds of Taliban fighters in sometimes hours-long battles, but also losing 51 U.S. troops in combat -- the largest number of any year since 2001.
At a separate news conference Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, who commands the roughly 20,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, suggested that pattern would continue.