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Afghan President Hamid Karzai pledges Kandahar Offensive will include consultations with Tribal Leaders
Karzai's remarks to about 2,000 officials and tribal leaders in the Taliban's spiritual heartland appeared to be part of a campaign to shore up his nationalist credentials following a speech last week in which he lashed out at what he called foreign interference in last year's presidential election.
"There will be no military operation without your cooperation and consultation," Karzai told the gathering in the city of Kandahar, while the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, looked on.
Most of the 30,000 new troops promised by President Barack Obamawill be headed to Kandahar city and the surrounding province. Dates for the southward push haven't been announced and there is no indication that Karzai would have final say over when it begins.
However, both Afghan and U.S. commanders have stressed the need for strong civilian support and Maj. Gen. William Mayville, deputy chief of staff for international forces, said on the plane ride back to Kabul that ultimate success in Kandahar would hinge on winning local sympathies.
"You've got to have the community really wanting in, otherwise things are stalled," Mayville said.
McChrystal did not address the Kandahar gathering, but has said he foresees a series of targeted actions to steadily drive out the Taliban, rather than the D-Day-style assault launched in February against insurgents in Marjah in neighboring Helmand province.
Mark Sedwill, NATO's current senior civilian representative, also attended the meeting as a part of his mandate to lead efforts to "find a political solution and promote stabilization" in Kandahar, spokesman Christopher Chambers said.
Karzai has deep roots in Kandahar, where his half brother is leader of the provincial assembly, but Taliban activity has also severely limited his government's influence there.
In his remarks, Karzai lamented the dearth of Kandahar natives in the army and police. He urged local residents to send representatives to a national peace conference to be held in Kabul in early May to seek reconciliation among all factions.
"Afghanistan will stand on its own feet when people have trust in their president and cooperate with their government," Karzai said. He repeated a call for any Taliban not linked to al-Qaida to join the reconciliation process.
After eight years in power, the central government has little control outside Kabul, especially in the south from which the Taliban emerged as a political and military force in the 1990s. While part of that is fed by tribal rivalries, much anger is also directed at the government for the failure to bring security and basic services such as electricity and running water.
Sayed Ziarbaksh, a Kandahar official attending Sunday's meeting, said the expected NATO offensive would only be effective if it left permanent institutions behind in the Taliban's spiritual homeland.
"If (troops) just come and go, it may not be worthwhile," Ziarbaksh said. "If there is no government, then there will be Taliban in those places."
The meeting comes amid tensions with Washington over Karzai's recent scathing accusations, which theWhite House described as troubling.
Karzai lashed out against the U.N. and the international community, accusing them of perpetrating a "vast fraud" in last year's presidential polls as part of a conspiracy to deny him re-election or tarnish his victory.
A U.N.-backed watchdog threw out nearly a third of Karzai's votes in the Aug. 20 ballot, forcing him into a runoff.
Karzai attempted to contain the damage with a telephone conversation Saturday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, but his allegations laid bare the growing frostiness in relations as the United States and NATO ramp up troop levels to try to turn back the Taliban.
The Obama administration has been far more critical of Karzai's stewardship than former President George W. Bush — especially his failure to curb corruption and improve governance.
Partly in response, Karzai this month gave an anti-corruption body powers to prosecute cases in court.
His attorney general also opened an investigation into the former head of the Ministry of Hajj and Mosque, Sediq Chakari, who has been implicated in the disappearance of travel funds for last year's annual pilgrimage to Mecca. Ministry of Interior spokesman Zemeri Bashary said Sunday that the ministry formally asked Interpol less than a week ago to arrest Chakari, who is living abroad.
Meanwhile, a member of the international force was killed in southern Afghanistan by a roadside bomb, NATOreported. Details were being withheld pending notification of family members.
The death was the first foreign casualty since three German soldiers were killed in a battle Friday in the country's north. In the wake of Friday's fighting, German troops mistaken killed six Afghan soldiers, promptingGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel to call Karzai on Saturday to express her condolences over the deaths.
German forces were sharply criticized last September when they ordered an airstrike on two tanker trucks that had been captured by the Taliban, killing up to 142 people.
Three Afghan police were also killed Sunday and three wounded when their vehicle came under attack near Helmand's capital of Lashkar Gah.
In the central province of Ghazni, five members of a family were killed when the truck they were traveling in was hit by a roadside bomb, according to the chief of medicine at Ghazni City Hospital, Mohammad Ismail Ibrahimzia.
Five others were wounded, including small children and an 18-year-old boy who was in critical condition after having both legs amputated.
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