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US Envoy Meets Afghan Officials in Kabul

The U.S. envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke has met with top Afghan officials in Kabul as part of a trip reviewing U.S. policies in the region. Officials in Kabul say they lobbied Holbrooke for more U.S. troops and reconstruction funds.

Ambassador Holbrooke has largely avoided speaking publicly during his travels in Pakistan and Afghanistan this week, but Afghan officials have been open about their expectations.

Lawmaker Fauzia Kofi tells VOA she lobbied Holbrooke for more troops to improve security for presidential elections in August, as well as new commitments for large reconstruction projects that will have an impact on ordinary Afghans.

She says she expects that U.S. policy in Afghanistan will change - mainly because the new administration appears to be addressing the war against the Taliban as a regional problem.

"The Afghanistan issue is very much linked to the Pakistan situation. To the way the Pakistani government commits itself, to the way the security organizations work, to the way they control the border area, to the way they operate madrassas - and vice versa in Afghanistan. So I believe the appointment itself is a means, first, for a change," said Kofi.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen tells VOA that officials are lobbying for the United States to focus on what he calls the roots of terrorism in Afghanistan - a reference to Taliban bases in Pakistan. He also said there should be as much focus on reconstruction projects and strengthening government institutions asfighting the Taliban.

"The U.S. affirmed its commitment to Afghanistan and he reiterated his support for the reconstruction for Afghanistan in a joint war against terror and also for the democracy and human rights and women's rights in Afghanistan," said Baheen.

The Obama administration's relationship with President Hamid Karzai has been a source of intense speculation in Kabul. Mr. Karzai enjoyed a close relationship with former President George W. Bush, but in recent months he has come under criticism for presiding over a weak and corrupt government.

President Karzai, in turn, has criticized foreign troops for a string of civilian killings in the past year.

During Holbrooke's visit to Kabul, the Afghan Defense Ministry and U.S. coalition forces announced a new agreement to include more Afghans in the planning and execution of counterterrorism missions - particularly night operations.

Raids in darkness on suspected militant hideouts have resulted in scores of civilian casualties, outraging Afghans. On Saturday, Australia's ambassador to Afghanistan formally apologized for a pre-dawn battle between Australian forces and Taliban fighters that killed five children in southern Oruzgan province on Thursday.

The new agreement pledges to improve coordination and ensure that Afghans be included in home searches. U.S. military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian tells VOA the goal is to eventually include Afghan members on all home searches, but for now, there will continue to be some coalition operations without Afghan representatives.