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Bush, Karzai target surging violence in Afghanistan

By Ben Feller
Associated Press Writer

CAMP DAVID, Md. — President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday began a search for answers to the deteriorating security and sporadic rule of law in Afghanistan.

Karzai’s two-day visit to Bush’s mountain retreat comes as he faces competing troubles at home — a hostage crisis, civilian killings, drug trafficking and a resurgent Taliban.

All of those matters are likely to be discussed with Bush. The U.S. president is looking to bolster Karzai but also to prod his government to exert and extend its authority.

Karzai arrived on a misty afternoon in the Catoctin Mountains. He was greeted by Bush and first lady Laura Bush, who led him through a cordon of Marines and Navy sailors.

Karzai chatted briefly with a few of Bush’s top aides, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Then he climbed in the front in Bush’s local ride — Golf Cart One — while the first lady got in back. President Bush drove them away after wheeling the golf cart into a playful spin for the gathered media.

Trouble

Ahead of his arrival, Karzai offered a reminder of the trouble that remains nearly six years after U.S. and coalition forces entered his country. In the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the United States and its allies have essentially gotten nowhere lately, Karzai said.

“We are not closer, we are not further away from it,” Karzai said in an interview with CNN’s “Late Edition,” which aired Sunday. “We are where we were a few years ago.”

Karzai ruled out that bin Laden was in Afghanistan, but otherwise said he didn’t know where the leader of the al-Qaida terror network was likely to be hiding.

Bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, is believed to be living in the tribal border region of Pakistan. His ability to avoid capture remains a major source of frustration for U.S.-led forces and a political sore spot for Bush.

Afghanistan’s fragility remains of paramount concern to the United States.

“Karzai wants to shore up his ties in Washington,” said Teresita Schaffer, a former top State Department official for south Asia. “And I think the U.S. government very much wants to get a stronger sense of how we can develop a common political strategy.”

Despite its progress since U.S.-led forces toppled the militant Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan still is dominated by poverty and lawlessness. Stability has been hindered by the lack of government order, particularly in the southern part of the country.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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