Sat, May 10, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Armitage aims to reassure Afghan leaders

AFP , ISLAMABAD

Afghan prisoners talk with their relatives through a window at the Kabul Prison in Afghanistan yesterday. Eleven Afghans held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, arrived back in Afghanistan on Thursday, a senior interior ministry official said.

PHOTO: AP

US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage left Pakistan for Afghanistan yesterday to reassure leaders in Kabul that Washington is prepared for long-term engagement in the war-torn central Asian nation.

"One of the reasons that President [George W.] Bush asked me to go to Kabul is to make a dramatic display that the United States hasn't lost interest," Armitage told Pakistan Television Thursday night after meeting Pakistani leaders.

Armitage flew out yesterday morning to the Afghan capital, before travelling on to New Delhi for talks with Indian leaders as part of a bid to spur on what he termed a "nascent" peace process.

His message to Afghan President Hamid Karzai would be that the US can be "very heavily involved in Afghanistan and for the long term" even while it was engaged in Iraq.

"We want to show politically that we have not given up our vision for an Afghanistan which has a very bright future," he said.

Armitage conceded the situation in Afghanistan 19 months after the harsh Taliban regime was routed by a US-led military offensive remained "difficult and complex."

The US-backed Karzai administration is grappling with massive security problems as fugitive Taliban and other anti-government rebels mount relentless attacks on coalition forces, Afghan soldiers and non-government organizations.

"It is a complex and difficult problem and I think that there is degree of truth in the questions critics raise about how far and wide [the] central government's writ extends," Armitage said.

However, he said Karzai repre-sented to most people "a certain level of security."

"That's a good base on which to move forward and I think he is intent on moving forward."

Western and Afghan troops, aid agencies and UN bodies have come under increased attack in recent months from suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters and loyalists of renegade Islamist leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

The killing of an Afghan deminer on Saturday prompted the UN to suspend services in southern Afghanistan.

Four US soldiers were killed in April.

In a report to the UN Security Council on Tuesday, special UN envoy for Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi said attacks by the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Hekmatyar loyalists had increased to an almost daily occurrence.

The coalition launched military operations against the Taliban and the al-Qaeda network it harbored in October 2001 in response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington that killed more than 3,000 people.

A US-led coalition of more than 10,000 troops is still hunting down Taliban remnants and pockets of fugitive fighters from the al-Qaeda network, but it is not charge of security in the provinces.

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