March 8, 2009 / 9:47 AM / 11 years ago

Afghan leader Karzai backs Obama's call on Taliban

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL, March 8 (Reuters) - With violence in Afghanistan at its highest since the Taliban was ousted, Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday welcomed U.S. counterpart Barack Obama’s openness to adapting tactics used to deal with moderate elements in Iraq.

Obama said in an interview with The New York Times newspaper published on its website on Saturday that some of the recent U.S. success in Iraq involved reaching out to moderate Islamists who had been alienated by al Qaeda’s indiscriminate violence.

Using mainly Sunni Muslim community leaders to employ locals to patrol their own neighbourhoods has been credited as one of the main reasons behind sharp falls in violence in Iraq.

Karzai’s pro-Western government and the growing number of foreign forces have increasingly come under attack by a resurgent Taliban, with Obama now describing Afghanistan as a top foreign policy priority for his new administration.

Obama told The New York Times there may be comparable opportunities in Afghanistan to employ the strategies used in Iraq, although he warned the Afghan crisis there was possibly even more complex.

"Yesterday, Mr. Obama accepted and approved the path of peace and talks with those Afghan Taliban who he called moderates," Karzai said during a function in Kabul to mark International Women’s Day.

"This is a good news ... this is approval of our previous stance and we accept and praise it," he said.

Obama last month approved the deployment of 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan as part of efforts to stabilise the country. He suggested before becoming president that he was open to talks with more moderate Taliban leaders.

Insurgent violence in Afghanistan is at its highest since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001. Almost 70,000 foreign troops under NATO and U.S. command have joined tens of thousands of Afghan forces in the fight against the Taliban-led insurgency.

Obama, who sees the Afghan conflict as a more pressing concern than the unpopular war in Iraq, is trying to convince other NATO nations to boost troop commitments to Afghanistan.

The Taliban, who often operate out of bases across the border in Pakistan, could not be reached on Sunday but have turned down similar overtures from Karzai in the past.

Karzai, who faces elections within the next five months, said those Taliban not allied with al Qaeda should take the opportunity to try to end three decades of war in Afghanistan. (Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Paul Tait)

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