US Afghanistan commander defends Karzai
The commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, said Wednesday he was convinced that President Hamid Karzai was making the "right efforts" to stabilise his country.
Following a damaging recent rift between Washington and Kabul, the US general said the Afghan president had impressed him on a joint visit to the northern city of Kunduz this month.
"After my visit to Kunduz with President Karzai, I became convinced that he is focused on taking the right efforts, particularly on governance, that will support the security and development efforts in the year ahead," he said.
"I think that President Karzai is taking appropriate steps for a political leader to try to bring all the parts of his population together... to participate in the political process."
McChrystal was speaking to reporters in Berlin after talks with German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg.
Tensions ran high earlier this month after Karzai claimed that foreign powers had orchestrated fraud in last year's elections. But top US officials have moved to defuse the row.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington considered the president a "reliable partner" while Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Karzai had "a very positive relationship" with McChrystal.
McChrystal's Berlin visit was originally scheduled for Monday after a stop in Paris but was postponed due to the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland which hobbled European air traffic.
He called Germany, which has about 4,400 troops serving in the north of the strife-wracked country, a "critical partner in bringing peace to the people of Afghanistan".
According to press reports, McChrystal wanted to see Berlin commit to making "an important contribution" to a planned US-led offensive against Taliban forces later this year in northern Afghanistan.
But sources who took part in the talks said they did not touch on the deployment of more German "combat troops".
Germany has the third largest contingent in Afghanistan after the United States and Britain. Parliament approved another 850 soldiers in February, following US President Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000 more.
© 2010 AFP