U.S. envoy meets with Afghan president

KABUL -- President Obama's new envoy to Afghanistan met with President Hamid Karzai on Saturday amid a downturn in U.S.-Afghan relations and an upswing in militant violence.

Karzai says he still has not spoken with Obama almost a month after his inauguration, a sign the Afghan president no longer enjoys the favored status he had under President Bush.

"There is tension between us and the U.S. government on issues of civilian casualties, arrests of Afghans, nightly raids on homes and the casualties they cause," Karzai told al-Jazeera television Friday.

Obama has said the U.S. will increase its attention on Afghanistan under his tenure as the U.S. transitions out of Iraq. But the administration is still debating how to stem the Taliban tide and tackle the endemic corruption in Karzai's government more than seven years after the 2001 invasion.

Taliban militants have increased attacks and swept up wide areas of countryside over the last three years. The U.S. is contemplating sending up to 30,000 more American forces to back up the 33,000 already in Afghanistan.

Richard Holbrooke, Obama's new envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, met with Karzai at the heavily guarded presidential palace in central Kabul on Saturday. Neither Holbrooke nor Karzai made any public statements, but the two scheduled a joint news conference for today.

Holbrooke earlier met with Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, whose spokesman said Holbrooke reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the anti-terrorism fight, reconstruction projects and the training of Afghan forces. Holbrooke has met with Afghan officials, international military leaders and U.N. diplomats during a fact-finding trip that began Thursday.

Holbrooke has made no public comments during the Afghan leg of his trip. He previously visited Pakistan and also is to stop in India.

Karzai in recent weeks has publicly pressed the U.S. to use Afghan troops on nighttime raids in order to prevent civilian casualties. Karzai's public criticism of the raids and the civilian deaths caused by U.S. troops has added to recent tensions in the U.S.-Afghan relationship.

The U.S. military and Afghan Defense Ministry announced Thursday that Afghan officials and troops would take greater part in U.S. missions, particularly night raids.

"There will be better coordination to minimize risk of civilian casualties and ensure Afghans search Afghan homes and conduct arrest operations," a joint U.S.-Afghan statement said. It wasn't yet clear how soon Afghans would be placed on those missions.

U.S. Special Operations Forces conduct targeted night raids against known militant leaders, but the operations have resulted in many Afghan civilian deaths as innocent villagers often try to defend their neighbors' homes from what they fear are Taliban attackers or hostile tribesmen.

The top American military officer, Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, said the war will be lost if the U.S. can't find a way to protect the Afghan people and gain their trust.

"We can send more troops. We can kill or capture all the Taliban and al-Qaida leaders we can find -- and we should. We can clear out havens and shut down the narcotics trade. But until we prove capable, with the help of our allies and Afghan partners, of safeguarding the population, we will never know a peaceful, prosperous Afghanistan," he wrote in a column posted on The Washington Post's website Saturday.

In the latest civilian deaths case, Australia's ambassador to Afghanistan sent a letter of apology on Saturday to Karzai for the deaths of five Afghan children in an Australian military mission Thursday.

In the latest violence, two NATO troops died in the south, while three separate roadside bombs killed seven police and a government official, officials said.

The NATO-led force did not release any more information about the two deaths, including the nationalities of the troops. Britain's Ministry of Defense said a British soldier was killed by enemy fire Saturday while patrolling in Helmand province. He died as he was being flown to a hospital.

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