Hamid Karzai (photo), president of Afghanistan, and Barack Obama, US Democratic presidential candidate, have met, on the second day of his tour of the country.
A day after he arrived in Afghanistan, as part of a congressional delegation, the Illinois senator met US troops at a military base in Kabul, the Afghan capital, before meeting Hamid Karzai.
To James Bays, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Kabul, it was likely Mr Karzai would have discussed with Mr Obama a string of Nato offensives where civilians have been killed or injured.
“In the last few days, Karzai went to the scene of an incident where there were civilian casualties at a wedding party in the east of Afghanistan, to console survivors and give compensation from the government. I think civilian casualties will be on the agenda”, he said.
And James Bays reported that Barack Obama has concerns about the quality of leadership in Afghanistan : “Obama has been critical in the past of Karzai and the Afghan government. This is a government that many in the international community see as having too many corrupt elements to it.”
Troops from Iraq to Afghanistan
On Saturday, Mr Obama (photo, from aljazeera.net) and other senators travelling with him, have met military leaders at the Bagram base north of Kabul, who told them about their efforts to combat Taliban forces and other fighters opposed to the US-backed Afghan government.
Then, at Jalalabad airfield, the congressional delegation met more US soldiers and the governor of Nangahar province.
Afghanistan is the central front in the so-called “war on terror”, said Barack Obama, who is expected to call for more US action to rout the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The Democratic candidate already said that if he is elected in November, at least two more combat brigades, up to 10 000 extra troops, would be committed to Afghanistan, while reducing the number of US forces in Iraq.
But the pledge to commit more US troops to Afghanistan is already proving divisive, said James Bays.
“Nato commanders and US military commanders have said that they would welcome extra troops. Nato commanders know that American troops are useful to them because they can send them anywhere in the country – many other Nato troops will not send their troops to more volatile areas of Afghanistan.”
“But Afghan citizens and Afghan politicians may not want more troops … Many Afghan politicians will tell you that they do not think more troops is necessarily the answer.”
Republican rival criticism
The Democratic nominee’s lack of experience in the region has been criticised by his Republican rival, John McCain (photo), who mocked his current trip on Saturday.
“Senator Obama announced his strategy for Afghanistan and Iraq before departing on a fact-finding mission that will include visits to both those countries”, he said in a radio address.
“Apparently, he is confident enough that he will not find any facts that might change his opinion or alter his strategy. Remarkable.”
Barack Obama, speaking on the jet, before it landed in Afghanistan, said : “I am there to listen, but there is no doubt that my core position, which is that we need a timetable for withdrawal, not only to relieve pressure on our military but also to deal with the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan and to put more pressure on the Iraqi government.”
It is time to respect the wishes of Iraq as a sovereign government and start withdrawing troops, said the Illinois senator, addind that it is in the strategic interests of the US.
Nuri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister, has been quoted in German news weekly Der Spiegel as saying that he backed Mr Obama’s plan to pull out US troops within 16 months, if he becomes president.
“We feel that this would be the right timescale for withdrawal allowing for minor adjustments”, Mr al-Maliki said in the interview to be published on Monday. And he was quoted as saying that US forces should leave the country “as soon as possible”.
But on Sunday, Ali al-Dabbagh, an Iraqi government spokesman, denied that Mr al-Maliki had made such a remark. He said that Iraqi prime minister’s comments to the newspaper had been “misunderstood and mistranslated and not conveyed accurately”.