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Karzai Looks Forward to 'Wiping Out' Terrorism - 2002-03-06

Afghanistan's interim leader says the al-Qaeda and Taleban fighters battling a U.S.-led force in eastern Afghanistan represent the last stronghold of terrorism in his country. Hamid Karzai made the comments on the first day of a national conference on building a national Afghan army.

Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai says the joint U.S.-Afghan force is on the verge of wiping out the last vestige of terrorism in his country.

"This is the last isolated base of terrorism in Afghanistan," Mr. Karzai said. "I can tell you that this base will be finished, will not be there. It may be a day or two, or it may take longer."

The U.S.-led force has been battling since Friday to dislodge al-Qaida and Taleban fighters from mountain strongholds south of Gardez. It is the biggest U.S. engagement of the anti-terrorism war since the campaign last year in Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai says he told U.S. officials not to rush things and take as much time as necessary to finish the job.

"I told the U.S. government yesterday that I want this to take as much time as it may take. We are not going to be impatient with it. We will be patient and we will do what is needed to finish terrorism in Afghanistan and in the region," he said. "So we are determined like hell - like we were the very first day this campaign began - to finish them."

Mr. Karzai added that the anti-terrorism effort in his country is not solely a U.S. mission.

"You see, we are fighting together there right now, in those mountains in Paktia [province] against terrorism. Afghan and the U.S. forces are fighting together," said Mr. Karzai. "All of us have had casualties. It is a very joint struggle. It is a very joint war."

Mr. Karzai made his comments on the first day of national conference of local military leaders on building an Afghan national army. The issue is crucial, as providing security is seen as paramount to Afghanistan's rebuilding after 23 years of war and civil strife.

Security is currently provided in Kabul by the International Security Assistance Force, known as ISAF. But despite Mr. Karzai's pleas, ISAF will not deploy outside the capital, thus giving local warlords considerable power. The United States has declined to participate in ISAF.

Mr. Karzai said U.S. participation would be welcome, but that the United States has another role to play.

"America has a role to fight against terrorism. And that is that is the role it is playing well. We are satisfied with that. ISAF is a different question. If the United States likes to come and become part of ISAF, we have no problem with that. But we are not going to force it to do something it does not want to do," he said.

Two German and three Danish ISAF soldiers were killed Wednesday in Kabul while trying to defuse an unexploded bomb.