Obama sees heavy fighting ahead in Afghanistan
Washington, May 12 (DPA) US President Barack Obama predicted Wednesday there will be heavy fighting in Afghanistan in the months ahead as US and Afghan security forces move into areas controlled by the Taliban.
During a press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Obama noted the progress that has been made in Afghanistan in recent years but cautioned there are still difficult challenges that must be overcome.
'There are going to be ups and downs,' Obama said. 'There is going to be some hard fighting in the next several months.'
Obama met with Karzai as part of an effort to smooth over recent tension and demonstrate that despite any differences, the two leaders share the same goals for building a secure and stable Afghanistan.
Obama came into office vowing to intensify the US effort in Afghanistan following gains made by the Taliban and concerns Al Qaeda could use safe havens along the Afghan-Pakistan border to plot terrorist attacks.
Obama has announced a buildup of US forces that will widen the American presence to more than 100,000 soldiers this summer, while stepping up aid programmes to improve the Kabul government's capabilities and for economic development.
Karzai is in Washington for three days of high-level talks with Obama and senior US officials on a broad range of subjects including security, economic development, good governance, agriculture and ending corruption.
The purpose of the meetings was to review the current strategy and evaluate additional steps that need to be taken, but it came just weeks after intense quarrelling between Washington and Kabul that threatened to derail this week's meeting.
Karzai and the White House had been at odds over US concerns about widespread corruption in the Afghan government, and allegations by Karzai that the UN and Western governments were behind the voting fraud in his August re-election.
The spat erupted just days after Obama's March 28 visit to Kabul. Obama and Karzai acknowledged the tension but insisted that even though there are occasional differences on tactics, both are committed to building a better Afghanistan.
'There are moments that we speak frankly to each other,' Karzai said. 'And that frankness will only add to the strength of the relationship and contribute to the successes that we have.'
Karzai was attending meetings at the State Department and the Pentagon and as well as meeting with some members of Congress, where some lawmakers have been increasingly sceptical of his effectiveness.
Karzai's time in Washington was the first of several key dates for the Afghan leader. He has initiated a peace conference for later this month to pursue reconciliation with members of the Taliban willing to renounce violence, sever any ties with al-Qaeda and respect the rule of law.
Obama offered strong support for the initiative, but added that military pressure must be kept up on the Taliban to give the militants a reason to lay down their arms and reintegrate into Afghan society.
'One of the things I emphasized to President Karzai, however, is that the incentives for the Taliban to lay down arms ... and make peace with the Afghan government in part (depend) on our effectiveness in breaking their momentum militarily,' Obama said.
Another source of tension between Karzai and Washington has been civilian deaths caused by US and NATO forces. Obama said the US military in Afghanistan under the leadership of General Stanley McChrystal has take substantial steps to reduce civilian casualties.
'I take no pleasure in hearing a report that a civilian has been killed. That's not why I ran for president,' Obama said.