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Karzai, McChrystal to meet Afghan leaders

world Updated: Jun 13, 2010 14:21 IST

AFP
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Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the top NATO commander were due to meet local leaders and residents on Sunday to discuss a major forces build-up aimed at quelling Taliban militants.

Karzai and US General Stanley McChrystal will hold talks with about 50 key tribal, religious and provincial leaders in the southern province of Kandahar about their efforts to bring stability to the militant heartland.

"This is Karzai's only second visit to Kandahar in the last couple of years. This process of reaching out to Kandahar can only be led by the president," said Tony White, spokesman for NATO's civilian representative in Afghanistan.

"It's important for him to address the senior leadership -- tribal and religious -- and show his support for the effort," he said. "We anticipate that he will reassure them that there's no military offensive planned."

Karzai and McChrystal were also due to meet about 500 residents, and Karzai spokesman Waheed Omar said the president would stress to wary locals the campaign was a "process of stabilisation" rather than a major offensive.

Omar added the president would recount results of this month's "peace jirga", or conference, and reiterate calls for militants to renounce violence, accept the Afghan constitution and sever ties with terrorist networks.

Many of the 30,000 troops US President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan late last year are heading to Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban movement and a hotbed of bombings, assassinations and lawlessness.

But last week saw a surge in Taliban attacks as 30 NATO soldiers were killed and the alliance announced a two- to three-month delay in the peak of the most ambitious counter-insurgency operation in the nine-year Afghan war.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates urged patience with the war as NATO's International Security Assistance Force estimated the 142,000 foreign soldiers in Afghanistan are set to increase to 150,000 by August as part of a troop surge.