Afghanistan: The US military`s top officer assured Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Saturday that the new NATO commander will pursue the same war strategy crafted by Gen. Stanley McChrystal — the ousted general whom Karzai warmly praised for training Afghan security forces and reducing civilian casualties.
Adm. Mike Mullen visited Afghanistan three days after President Barack Obama accepted the resignation of McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces. Afghan leaders and US allies in the war worried his firing could disrupt the counterinsurgency strategy at a critical juncture in the war, but were relieved to learn that his replacement would be Gen. David Petraeus, McChrystal`s boss who help author the plan.
During their meeting, Karzai lauded McChrystal, saying he was able to "reduce civilian casualties, create good cooperation between the Afghan and international forces and strengthen and develop the Afghan forces," according to a statement from the Afghan presidential palace.
Karzai welcomed Obama`s decision to appoint Petraeus, a man he said had a wealth of experience and knowledge about the situation in Afghanistan, the statement said. Mullen, who later traveled to neighboring Pakistan, assured Karzai that Petraeus would also do his best to reduce civilian casualties, bolster cooperation among the forces and train Afghan police and soldiers.
On the battlefield, three international service members, including at least one American, were killed Saturday in two separate roadside bombings in southern Afghanistan, NATO said. That brought to 87 the number of international troops killed so far in June — already the deadliest month of the nearly 9-year-old war. The figure includes at least 51 Americans.
In a speech earlier in the day marking International Narcotics Day, Karzai acknowledged that curbing Afghanistan`s huge drug trade remains a major challenge, despite success in reducing or eradicating opium poppy cultivation in 22 of the country`s 34 provinces.
"We will work strongly against poppies and other narcotics for our national interest, honor, the welfare of Afghan people and development," he said. But he said the problem will not be solved until other countries crack down on smugglers within their own borders who profit from the traffic in Afghan poppies and heroin.
He said Afghanistan is a "poor and weak country that cannot control its borders" and asked its neighbors "why can`t you control your borders?"
Karzai did not cite countries by name but UN experts have pointed to Iran, Pakistan and Tajikistan as major transit points for Afghan drugs smuggled into Russia and Western Europe.
The drug trade also fuels corruption, which the US and its international partners believe has helped contribute to the return of the Taliban after it was ousted from power in a 2001 US-led invasion. Critics have faulted Karzai for not doing enough to combat corruption.
In his remarks, Karzai said there was nothing wrong with relatives of politicians and government officials investing in the Afghan economy, as long as the businesses operate legally.
"I would ask the anti-corruption department to monitor their incomes, starting with the president`s family, then the vice presidents, ministers, governors and lawmakers," he said. "There will be accountability in the country."
Karzai also complained that international missions in Afghanistan were spending too much money on private security companies, describing them as little more than armed militias.
"I request of the US, Britain and other countries and their militaries not to support private security guards," he said. "Those companies that are blocking the road, they are creating problems for the people and even support terrorists. They should not waste their money on these private security companies."
Use of private security companies to guard convoys transporting food, water, ammunition and fuel frees up soldiers for the battlefield.
However, US lawmakers criticized the military during a congressional hearing in Washington on Tuesday for failing to heed warnings that those companies were paying warlords millions of dollars to ensure safe passage through dangerous areas. Some of the money may go to the Taliban, lawmakers said.
Afghan authorities have also complained that security guards protecting such convoys fire on civilians without provocation in high-risk areas.
Also Saturday, NATO said a senior Taliban commander disguised as a woman was killed the night before after opening fire with a pistol at Afghan and international troops who had come to arrest him.
Intelligence sources tracked Ghulam Sakhi to a compound in Logar province, south of the capital. Afghan forces used a loudspeaker to call for women and children to leave the building.
"As they were exiting, Sakhi came out with the group disguised in women`s attire and pulled out a pistol and a grenade and shot at the security force," the coalition said in a statement. "When Afghan and coalition forces shot him, he dropped the grenade and it detonated, wounding a woman and two children."
NATO said Sakhi, who is known by several aliases, was involved in roadside bombings and ambushes throughout the province, and had kidnapped and killed an Afghan government intelligence chief there.
In Kabul, a small explosion occurred in an area that houses foreign embassies and government offices but caused no casualties.
Abdul Ghafar Sayedzada, head of the criminal investigation unit of the Kabul police, said the blast was caused by a small bomb placed on the engine of a government vehicle.
The driver of the car, used by the Afghan National Army, was arrested. The front of the vehicle was damaged, but no one was wounded, he said.