President Barack Obama has backed Afghan efforts to “open the door” to Taliban militants who renounce violence and cut ties with al-Qaeda. He was speaking after talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington. Karzai is in the US for four days of meetings aimed at repairing rocky relations between Kabul and Washington. Mr Obama said “perceived tensions” were “simply overstated”. He added that the US-led troops had begun to “reverse the momentum of the insurgency”. The World’s Katy Clark reports.
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MARCO WERMAN: I’m Marco Werman, this is The World. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai got a warm welcome at the White House today. This, after months of tension that appeared to threaten the U.S.-Afghan relationship. But all seemed to be forgiven as Mr. Karzai met President Obama. The two men spoke about cooperation and respect between Washington and Kabul and they insisted that any strain between them has been exaggerated. The World’s Katy Clark begins our coverage.
KATY CLARK: Hamid Karzai, in the middle of a four day visit to Washington, said today that disagreements are normal after nearly nine years of an extremely difficult joint war against the Taliban.
PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: I believe what you saw in the past few months are reflective of a deep and strong relationship. And that sort of relationship, as President Obama right described, there are moments that we speak frankly to each other and that frankness will only add to the strength of the relationship and contribute to the successes that we have.
CLARK: President Obama agreed.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There are going to be setbacks. There are going to be times where the Afghan government and U.S. government disagree tactically. But I think our overarching approach is unified and I think that the visit by President Karzai to the United States and his willingness to listen to our concerns, even as we listen to his, as he indicated, only makes the relationship stronger.
CLARK: Both leaders were pressed today about civilian casualties in Afghanistan. President Obama said he feels the weight of responsibility whenever non-fighters die and he’s instructed his commanders to do everything they can to avoid civilian deaths. Mr. Obama also said he expects to stick to his plan to start bringing American troops home next summer.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: But we are not suddenly, as of July 2011, finished with Afghanistan.
CLARK: That comment seemed directed at both the Afghan public and the American public. Support for the war in Afghanistan has waned in this country. Critics view President Karzai as an unreliable partner, and the war there unwinnable. A new report out this week from the International Crisis Group seems to support that second point anyway. It says the Afghan Army is riddled with corruption and feuding. That’s bad news for President Obama whose strategy for stabilizing Afghanistan hinges on expanding and improving the Afghan Army.
KURT VOLKER: I agree, it doesn’t sound good and I think it is a real problem. It’s a real challenge.
CLARK: Kurt Volker was U.S. Ambassador to NATO from 2008 to 2009. He’s now with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Volker says the ledger on Afghanistan is a mixed bag. On the positive side, efforts to reverse the Taliban’s military momentum seemed to be working and progress is being made to better engage the local population. But Volker says there’s no question efforts to build Afghan security forces are lagging.
VOLKER: Concerning the Army, it’s very difficult when you have a population that is largely illiterate, when you have strong tribal ties, when you have competition where the Taliban is willing to pay people to fight on their side rather than to fight on behalf of the Afghan National Army.
CLARK: Volker is quick to add though that training an Afghan National Army has been going better in the last two to three years and he cautions patience. Afghanistan isn’t going to be fixed overnight, he says, but it can be fixed. Volker points to some other situations that also once seemed hopeless.
VOLKER: Remember Bosnia was much simpler by comparison. We said we were going in for a year, we were there for at least ten, and the international community is still playing a strong role in Bosnia. Kosovo, we’re still there as well. This has got to be a long term commitment and a long term engagement.
CLARK: President Obama seems to understand that as well. But that commitment may be tested soon again. The U.S. led coalition in Afghanistan is preparing for a massive push next month into Kandahar Province. Kandahar is the birthplace of the Taliban. The fighting is expected to be among the bloodiest so far. For The World, this is Katy Clark.
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