September 11, 2008 / 10:56 AM / 11 years ago

Karzai backs U.S. strategy on militants in Pakistan

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday backed a proposed U.S. strategy that would involve hitting al Qaeda and Taliban militants in neighboring Pakistan, saying he had been calling for a changed approach for years.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai gestures as he speaks during a news conference at the presidential palace in Kabul September 11, 2008. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

“Change of strategy is essential,” Karzai told a news conference. “It means that we go to those areas which are the training bases and havens of (terrorists) and we jointly go there and remove and destroy them.”

His comments came a day after the U.S. military conceded it was not winning the fight against the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and said it would revise its strategy to combat militant safe havens in Pakistan.

U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that he was “looking at a new, more comprehensive strategy” that would cover both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.

Pakistan has said it will not tolerate foreign troops entering its territory.

Angered by Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, Karzai has advocated hot-pursuit missions into Pakistan before.

But while Karzai had a prickly relationship with former Pakistani army chief Pervez Musharraf, who stepped down as president last month, he has sought better ties with the new civilian president, Asif Ali Zardari.

Karzai attended Zardari’s swearing-in on Tuesday, and the two leaders said they had a common goal to defeat the militants.

Violence in Afghanistan has soared in the past three years as al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have regrouped in border areas.

Karzai welcomed a U.S. plan to send more troops to Afghanistan as overstretched coalition forces have increasingly resorted to air strikes against militant targets that have led to burgeoning numbers of civilian casualties.

“There should be no civilian deaths,” Karzai said.

Anger has mounted in Afghanistan over civilian casualties, particularly after an operation in the western province of Herat in which the Afghan government says more than 90 civilians died.

Karzai said ultimately control of Afghanistan must revert to Afghans as foreign troops could not stay indefinitely.

Some 71,000 troops under the command of the U.S. military and NATO are in Afghanistan.

Western commanders have given no indication of when they might withdraw, saying it depended on how soon Afghan forces were capable of taking full responsibility for internal and external security.

On Wednesday, the government and international donors decided to nearly double the size of the Afghan army to 134,000 soldiers.

Separately, the Taliban issued a statement to mark the seventh anniversary of al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks, saying the United States had suffered huge political and financial losses as well as loss of life as a consequence of occupying Afghanistan.

Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Roger Crabb

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