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US envoy meets Afghan president amid 'crisis'

world Updated: Feb 15, 2009 21:48 IST

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American envoy Richard Holbrooke has held talks with President Hamid Karzai as part of a review of Washington's fight against extremism, after the Afghan leader warned of a "crisis" with his US backers.

A Karzai spokesman said the talks late on Saturday were to have covered the need for better coordination between Afghan and international militaries in counterterrorism operations and the building of the Afghan security forces.

No other details of their discussions were released, but both men were to brief the press on Sunday.

Holbrooke met Karzai on the second full day of his visit after discussions with a range of officials and opposition figures, as well as international military commanders and diplomats.

His tour, which has taken him to Pakistan and will continue in India, is intended to gather information for a US review of its strategy in a region increasingly under threat from Islamic extremists.

On Saturday, a suspected US missile strike killed 27 Taliban militants in Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan, while 26 people were killed in coordinated suicide and gun attacks in Kabul on Wednesday.

Holbrooke's visit underscores US President Barack Obama's commitment to refocus on Afghanistan, where efforts to rebuild the country have been hampered by a Taliban-led insurgency that saw a record number of attacks last year.

Obama has been more critical of the Afghan administration than his predecessor George W. Bush, raising questions about continued US support for Karzai, who is expected to run for re-election in August.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday, Karzai admitted to a "crisis" between Washington and Kabul which included concern over civilian casualties in international operations and night-time raids on homes.

He said he hoped that a new deal reached with the international military to involve Afghans more closely in the planning and execution of operations would improve the situation.

Karzai rejected US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's assertion that Afghanistan is a "narco-state," saying it did not benefit from the money generated by the huge illegal opium and heroin trade.

"We are the poorest country in the world. Our revenues are hardly a billion dollars a year -- all of our revenues put together. So how can we be a narco-state if we are so miserably poor?" he said.

Holbrooke has said a new approach was required to turn Afghanistan around and this involved all of its neighbours, particularly Pakistan.

"It is going to be a long, difficult struggle," he said at an international conference in Germany last week, adding that he believed Afghanistan was going to be "much tougher than Iraq."

Karzai's meeting with Holbrooke comes as Afghanistan marks 20 years since the withdrawal of Soviet forces after a 10-year resistance, called a "jihad" or holy war.

The Taliban claim they too are fighting jihad against Western "infidels" and "invaders" and regularly warn of a similar "cruel defeat" for the thousands of US and NATO-led troops who are in Afghanistan at the request of the government.