Karzai Wants End to U.S.-Led Operations info
| Source:Associated Press |
KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday challenged the need for major foreign military operations in
Afghanistan, saying air strikes are no longer effective and that U.S.-led coalition forces should focus on rooting out terror bases and support networks.
Karzai also demanded an immediate end to foreign troops searching people's homes without his government's authorization.
"I don't think there is a big need for military activity in Afghanistan anymore," he told reporters in Kabul. "The nature of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has changed now.
"No coalition forces should go to Afghan homes without the authorization of the Afghan government. ... The use of air power is something that may not be very effective now."
In suggesting a new approach to fighting militants, Karzai said foreign governments should "concentrate on where terrorists are trained, on their bases, on the supply to them, on the money coming to them" — a veiled reference to support militants allegedly get from neighboring Pakistan.
Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of aiding Taliban rebels and other militants, a charge Islamabad vehemently denies.
Karzai's comments came as Afghanistan began counting ballots from its historical legislative elections Sunday, seen as a final step toward democracy on a path laid out in 2001, when U.S.-led forces ousted Taliban rebels for refusing to hand over al-Qaida leader
Osama bin Laden after the Sept. 11 attacks.
In tape aired on Arabic television, Al-Qaida's No. 2 leader criticized the Afghan vote as "nothing but a farce" held "under the terror of warlords" — an apparent reference to faction leaders in Afghanistan's destructive civil conflict of the 1990s, some of whom were candidates.
"Thieves and warlords are controlling affairs in the country, where international monitors can't observe more than 10 constituencies even if they wanted to," bin Laden's Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, said in a five-minute videotape aired late Monday on Qatar-based al-Jazeera TV.
Both al-Qaida leaders are believed to be hiding along the rugged Pakistan-Afghan border.
The six months leading up to the election saw the biggest resurgence in Taliban violence since the Islamic hard-line government was expelled, with militants seeking to derail the U.S.-sponsored vote. More than 1,200 people have been killed, many of them suspected rebels slain in coalition air strikes, according to information from Afghan and U.S. officials.
Just hours before Karzai spoke, coalition commander Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry warned that he expected "more fighting in the weeks ahead."
"We are staying on the offensive against the enemies of Afghanistan, and we will continue that process throughout the fall and throughout the winter," Eikenberry told journalists.
But Karzai played down the militant threat, saying, "We do not think a serious terrorist challenge is emanating from Afghanistan."
The president did not specify whether he was referring to a threat from al-Qaida terrorists, Taliban rebels or both.
Meanwhile, several of the country's 34 counting centers began tallying ballots Tuesday as others waited for votes to be delivered, said a spokesman for the Afghan-U.N. election board, Aleem Siddique. Helicopters and even donkeys were being used to transport ballots.
Siddique said the counting centers expected to receive all the estimated 6 million ballots by Thursday. Some 7,000 people were enlisted to count the votes, a process expected to take weeks. Initial indications put turnout at just over 50 percent — compared with 70 percent in last year's presidential election, which installed Karzai.
Another election board spokesman, Baheen Sultan Ahmad, said vote counting had not yet started in Jalalabad — which has counting centers for Nangarhar and two neighboring provinces — because of security concerns.
Early Tuesday, two rockets struck Jalalabad, slightly injuring one person at a government building, the Interior Ministry said. A roadside bomb exploded Sunday near a truck carrying ballots in Nangarhar but caused no damage.
Although there were no major attacks to disrupt voting, officials believe the lower turnout may have been due to fears of Taliban violence, the presence of warlords on the ballots and the bewildering choice of candidates. Also, many Afghans distrust politicians they blame for plunging the country into chaos and aren't convinced they can drag it out of poverty and pain.
In a preliminary report, an EU observer mission gave the polling a positive review but said vote secrecy was not always maintained. It said shortcomings included intimidation, intervention by officials, inadequate voter lists and "deplorable" killings of candidates and election workers.
Complete provisional results in the vote for parliament and 34 provincial councils were not expected for at least two weeks. Officials hope to have certified results by Oct. 22.