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Afghan president says bin Laden not in his country, calls for more aid

Monday, September 25, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Afghan's president asserted Sunday that Osama bin Laden has not been in his country since being chased out after the Sept. 11 attacks five years ago. But Hamid Karzai acknowledged that the al-Qaida leader's exact location is unknown.

"He has never been in our country after Sept. 11, after the strikes against him, after we chased his organization out of Afghanistan," Karzai told CNN's "Late Edition." He suggested the al-Qaida leader was in Pakistan.

When asked about a leaked French intelligence document that raised the possibility bin Laden died in Pakistan of an illness last month, Karzai said Afghanistan does not have "accurate information as to the precise location" of Osama bin Laden."

Separately, Karzai told NBC's "Meet the Press," in an interview taped last week but broadcast Sunday, that his country would be "heaven in less than a year" if it got the $300 billion the United States has spent in Iraq.

Critics of President Bush say the United States has not been able to finish rebuilding Afghanistan because it is distracted by the increasingly expensive war in Iraq.

"Three hundred billion dollars: You give that to Afghanistan and we will be in heaven in less than a year," Karzai said when asked if the money spent on Iraq would have been better spent in Afghanistan. "We definitely need more money for reconstruction."

Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said the war in Iraq had hurt the hunt for bin Laden. She said it was a "fair certainty" the al-Qaida chief was in Pakistan's tribal area, not Afghanistan.

"Resources were not focused on this problem as we got bogged down in Iraq," she told CNN. "We should have been able to capture him within the last five years."

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., warned against making the search for bin Laden a political issue with elections weeks away. "Everybody wants to capture Osama bin Laden, and one day we will," he said.

Specter said trying to find bin Laden is "like looking for a needle in a haystack. I don't think you can say that it's anybody's fault. It's a big world. There are lots of places for him to hide."

The issue has caused friction between Karzai and Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf. Last week, they spent much of the U.N. General Assembly meeting trading barbs and criticizing each other's efforts to fight terrorists along their long, remote, mountainous border.

The United States views the region as crucial to stopping terrorism. Bush will try to diffuse tensions when the three leaders meet this week.

Pakistan rejects the accusation that it is not doing enough to stop terrorists, pointing out that it has deployed 80,000 troops along the porous border. Musharraf said last week that "the problem lies in Afghanistan, and that is creating the problem in Pakistan."


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