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Afghan tribal leaders back U.S. deal

Associated Press
Published May 9, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan - Hundreds of tribal leaders backed President Hamid Karzai's plan for a "strategic partnership" with the United States on Sunday, a government spokesman said, a pact that could cement a long-term U.S. military presence in Central Asia.

More than 1,000 elders and officials from across Afghanistan met with Karzai in the presidential palace in Kabul on Sunday for consultations on the plan, spokesman Jawed Ludin said.

"Our finding from today's discussion was that people are, on the whole, very positive about this," Ludin said at a news conference, adding that only one person had spoken against the plan. Ludin didn't describe the man's objections.

Karzai will likely talk about the partnership, which Afghan officials say must cover economic and political links as well as military aid, in a meeting with President Bush in Washington this month, the spokesman said.

Discussions, begun several months ago, are entering "a more formal phase," Ludin said.

About 17,000 American soldiers are in Afghanistan pursuing al-Qaida rebels and militant followers of the ousted Taliban government. A separate NATO-led force has about 8,500 troops in the capital and across the north and west.

American commanders have said they expect to have forces in the country, which borders Iran, nuclear-armed Pakistan and oil-rich Central Asia, for many years to come. But Washington and Kabul have no treaty to govern their stay beyond Operation Enduring Freedom, America's war on terrorism.

Ludin said the government wants U.S. as well as NATO troops to remain in Afghanistan until Afghan government forces are able to take their place.

The new Afghan army, trained mainly by the United States, Britain and France, is expected to reach its full strength of 70,000 in September next year; Afghan defense officials insist that is far too small to defend the country.

Afghan officials say the United Nations, which has piloted the country's course toward democracy, also should stay on when its mission expires with parliamentary elections in September.

Ludin said delegates at Sunday's meeting put more emphasis on economic support than military aid and expressed concern about the heavy-handed style of U.S.-led operations, which have killed several civilians this year.

He said the Afghan government is seeking an agreement that goes far beyond long-term foreign military bases.

"Afghanistan needs a commitment from the United States. We want them to help in all these sectors until Afghanistan can stand on its own feet," Ludin said.

The new Parliament will have the final word on any treaties, he said.

Attack kills U.N. staffer

KABUL, Afghanistan - A U.N. engineer from Myanmar was among three people killed when a suicide attacker walked into a Kabul Internet cafe and blew himself up, officials said Sunday, in the first fatal attack on a U.N. staffer in the capital since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The bombing on Saturday followed a series of kidnap attempts on foreigners and the killing of a British development worker, deepening a sense of insecurity in the city just as a Taliban-led insurgency revives in the south.

Afghanistan's top law-enforcer promised a thorough investigation and said police were erecting extra checkpoints around the country.

The U.S. ambassador condemned the targeting of an Internet cafe as an attack on "Afghans' desire to be part of the larger world."

"The fact that this terrorist chose a place where Afghans and visitors visited to freely gather and exchange information is not surprising," Zalmay Khalilzad said. "These tyrants fear truth."

Officials said witnesses recalled a man entering the Park Internet Cafe in the upscale Shahr-e-Naw district on Saturday afternoon and going straight to the restroom. The explosion occurred just after he re-emerged.

U.N. spokeswoman Ariane Quentier identified one of the victims only as a Myanmar national who was an employee of the U.N. Office for Project Services.

Gen. Nazar Mohammed Nekzad, the lead Afghan investigator, said the man had been working on a road project in southern Afghanistan.

Another of the three victims appeared to be a suicide bomber, because of the severe mutilation of his body, Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal said. The third fatality and five people wounded were Afghan customers.

[Last modified May 9, 2005, 01:54:14]

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