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Afghan President Promises Forces to Counter Next Taleban Offensive

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Friday in Rome that any upcoming attacks from the Taleban would be dependent on outside support. Speaking after a meeting with the Italian prime minister, Mr. Karzai vowed such attacks would be countered with "vigor and force." Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

President Karzai said a spring offensive by the Taleban "depends on the structure of support they have or do not have outside of Afghanistan. He said his government would strike with immense vigor and force if there is such an offensive.

Mr. Karzai said Afghanistan has suffered for the past 30 years because of interference from its neighbors but he did not specify any country by name.

Speaking in Rome at a joint press conference with Mr. Karzai, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Italy would keep its 18-hundred-strong force in Afghanistan. The center-left government has been under strong domestic pressure to withdraw the troops and even faces opposition from within the government on this issue.

Mr. Prodi's assurances that Italian troops would remain in place came one day after President George Bush said NATO allies needed to supply more soldiers in Afghanistan. Italy did not pledge additional troops.

Earlier, Mr. Karzai attended a conference on the role of women in Afghanistan with Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema. "As you all know we have the parliament today that has more than 27 percent of it made up of women. We have our girls going to school in ever larger numbers, except in the areas that are affected by terrorism and attacks by those who do not wish Afghanistan well," he said.

President Karzai thanked Italy for its continued presence in his country and for everything it has done to help the people in Afghanistan move toward a better future. "I believe this is for me the right forum to express gratitude for being with us at a very difficult time, and for continuing to be with us today that we are moving toward a better, more secure future for our people," he said.

The Italian cabinet has passed a decree refinancing the Italian mission last month, but three radical leftist ministers did not vote for the measure. Prodi faces a tough test later this month because the decree must be approved by parliament and any rebellion could be cause for embarrassment.

While in Italy, Mr. Karzai also discussed an international conference on Afghanistan that is scheduled to be held in Rome next May.