Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Clinton in Afghanistan 'to urge Taliban reconciliation'

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arriving in Kabul, with (from left): Lt Gen Curtis Scaparotti, US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker and Afghan chief of protocol Hamid Saddiq - 19 October 2011  
Mrs Clinton's visit to Afghanistan was not announced before her arrival in Kabul late on Wednesday
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Afghanistan to encourage President Hamid Karzai to continue efforts to reconcile with the Taliban.

Mr Karzai has expressed frustration at the process after the assassinations of several key Afghan leaders.

US officials say Mrs Clinton also wants to convince Afghans that Washington is committed to a long-term relationship with their country.

The US is planning to withdraw troops and hand over security to the Afghans.

"She wants to signal US support for a secure and stable Afghanistan," a US official told journalists travelling to Afghanistan with Mrs Clinton.

Her visit to Afghanistan was not announced until she arrived in Kabul late on Wednesday.
Brazen assaults
"She wants to emphasise that the United States remains committed to Afghan reconciliation and will support President Karzai in his efforts, recognising the difficulties that process has undergone since the assassination of Rabbani."

Burhanuddin Rabbani was a former Afghan president and the point man on efforts to reconcile the Taliban with Mr Karzai's US-backed government.
Afghan National Army troops near Kunduz, Afghanistan - 19 September 2011  
Foreign troops are handing over responsibility for security to Afghan forces in 2014
He was killed last month by a suicide bomber posing as a Taliban envoy.

There have also been a number of brazen assaults on major cities and military targets in recent months.

The Haqqani network of the Taliban, based in Pakistan, has been blamed for many of the attacks.

Relations between the US and Afghanistan on the one side and Pakistan on the other have soured in recent months as Washington and Kabul urge Islamabad to take action against Taliban safe havens in Pakistan's tribal areas.

US officials have suggested the Haqqanis are linked to Pakistan's intelligence services, a charge Pakistan denies.

After the Rabbani killing, Mr Karzai suggested that Pakistan might be better placed to negotiate with the Taliban.

The officials briefing journalists on Mrs Clinton's Afghanistan visit said she would be discussing Afghanistan's relations with Pakistan in her meetings with Mr Karzai and other officials.
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