U.S Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul on Sunday. The U.S. Senator, who is traveling as part of a congressional delegation, also met with U.S. troops and military commanders. Ayaz Gul reports from neighboring Pakistan.
Barack Obama held talks over lunch with President Hamid Karzai at the heavily guarded presidential palace. He was accompanied by fellow Senators Jack Reed and Chuck Hagel at the meeting.
Afghan presidential spokesman Homayoon Hamedzada told reporters after the meeting that the two sides exchanged views on a wide range of issues, including progress Afghanistan has made in rebuilding the country and combatting terrorism.
"Senator Obama conveyed his commitment to Afghanistan that he is committed to supporting Afghanistan and to continue the war against terrorism with vigor. From the Afghan side, of course, President Karzai appreciates that," Hamedzada said. "We know, president Karzai has said this before, that both [U.S. political] parties are friends of Afghanistan, and no matter who wins the U.S election, Afghanistan will have a very strong partner in the United States."
Senator Obama has promised to send more troops to Afghanistan if he wins the U.S. presidential election and has called for a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.
But Obama also has criticized President Karzai for not doing enough to rebuild Afghanistan's institutions.
When asked to respond to Obama's criticism, presidential spokesman Hamedzada acknowledged the difficulties Afghanistan is facing.
"We did not see that as a criticism because there is a degree of realism in that statement. And that is the fact that, while we are making significant progress in rebuilding our country fighting terrorism and making normal life for all Afghans affordable, we are also facing a significant threat of terrorism," Hamedzada said.
President Karzai is an important ally in the U.S-led war against terror, but he has lately come under increasing criticism at home and abroad for not taking tough action to eliminate growing corruption in his administration, deal with former warlords and stamp out narcotics production. Critics say all these factors are feeding the growing Taliban insurgency.
The congressional delegation is also to visit the Iraq on the tour of the Middle East and Europe. The tour is widely seen as an attempt by the Democratic presidential candidate to answer Republican criticism that he does not have the experience to deal with foreign policy issues and to be a commander-in-chief of the U.S armed forces. Obama's Republican rival, John McCain, has criticized Obama for announcing a strategy for Iraq and Afghanistan before traveling to the countries.
On Saturday, Mr. Obama was flown to northeastern Afghanistan where he was briefed by regional commanders of the NATO-led forces. Mostly U.S forces are stationed in the eastern parts of the country, which have seen a significant rise in Taliban attacks this year.