Afghan President Hamid Karzai is wrapping up a four-day visit to Washington with a televised give-and-take with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The Obama administration has done its best to repair strained relations with the Afghan leader, its partner in the war against militants in Afghanistan. Karzai, meanwhile, will continue to seek to convince Americans that his regime is worth fighting and dying for, with a visit to Arlington National Cemetery and private talks with top lawmakers.
After a Capitol Hill lunch hosted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, Karzai was to appear with Clinton at the US Institute of Peace for what was billed as a "moderated discussion." They were expected to talk about the ups and downs of the relationship and the way ahead.
Karzai leaves Washington on Friday. Before heading back to Kabul he is expected to visit Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne Division, which is going to Afghanistan over the next several weeks, according to US and Afghan officials. Thursday's events in Washington cap a series of meetings aimed at ending months of sniping and frustration over management of the war and fraud surrounding Karzai's re-election last year. Both Obama and Karzai said at the White House on Wednesday that such disagreements are normal with so much at stake.
"There are moments when we speak frankly to each other, and that frankness will only contribute to the strength of the relationship," Karzai said at a joint news conference with Obama. Despite noting gains that have been made since he ordered thousands of additional US troops into Afghanistan, Obama said the war will get worse before it gets better. He stressed, though, that his plan to begin withdrawing US forces next summer remains on track.
"What I've tried to emphasize is the fact that there is going to be some hard fighting over the next several months," Obama said. He spoke as the US-led force in Afghanistan readies to push hard into the Taliban's birthplace in Kandahar Province in June. The campaign for Kandahar, already under way in districts outside the city, is expected to be among the bloodiest of the nearly nine-year-old war.
In his meetings with US officials, including Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Karzai repeatedly has called for the US to respect Afghanistan's sovereignty and has expressed frustration with operations that have killed innocent bystanders. Obama said Wednesday that the US has taken "extraordinary measures" to avoid civilian deaths in the war. "I do not want civilians killed," Obama said, adding that he ultimately is accountable when they are.
The comment was a nod to Karzai's warnings that killing innocents is making enemies of those who might be friends. Karzai also has sought reassurance from Washington that his country will not be abandoned after US forces withdraw. Obama, Clinton and others have obliged, saying America will not cut and run.
"We are not suddenly as of July 2011 finished with Afghanistan," Obama said on Wednesday. "After July 2011 we are still going to have an interest in making sure that Afghanistan is secure, that economic development is taking place, that good governance is being promoted."