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Karzai, US general visit Taliban’s former stronghold

Marjah (Afghanistan), March 7 (DPA) Afghan President Hamid Karzai and NATO’s chief commander, US General Stanley McChrystal, Sunday visited the former Taliban stronghold of Marjah in southern

Afghanistan.

NATO officials also announced two of its soldiers were killed in attacks in the southern region on Sunday, without stating nationalities for the dead.

The president, in an unannounced visit, arrived in the Helmand province’s Marjah town that was recently captured from Taliban, and held a two-hour meeting with more than 250 elders.

“Today I am here to listen to your problems,” Karzai told the gathering. “We will fulfill all the promises that we had made for security and reconstruction in your area.”

Last month a total of 15,000 Afghan and NATO forces began the largest operation since the ouster of Taliban regime in late 2001 in Marjah town and Nad Ali district.

The combined forces retook almost all the areas of the town and raised Afghan national flag to mark the end of Taliban rule in the region.

While several Afghan and NATO officials visited the town and promised a new era of security and stability for the local populace, there were still resistance by the Taliban in the area, which used to be the biggest opium market in the country.

The operation aims at driving the Taliban militants from one of their main bastions in the regions and winning the hearts and minds of the people by bringing security and launching reconstruction projects.

But such ambitious plans have already suffered a major blow as nearly 30 civilians, with 12 of them in one incident, were killed since the start of the Operation Mushtarak, a local work for

“together”.

Karzai, who was accompanied by Afghan security chiefs as well as McChrystal during his trip, asked the elders “are you with me or against me? Are you supporting me?”

“We are with you and we are supporting you,” the bearded and turbaned elders shouted back in chorus.

The president promised the locals that new schools would be built and the government decided to send hundreds of newly trained Afghan national police to ensure lasting security in the area, the

presidential palace said in a statement.

Karzai told reporters later that the elders had expressed their grievances regarding the Afghan government officials and foreign forces, adding “it is our job to investigate and address their

concerns.”

Taliban spokesman, Qari Mohammad Yousif Ahmadi said that their fighters fired several mortars into Marjah, but Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for Helmand’s governor said that a rocket landed in an area several kilometres far from the mosque where Karzai talked to the elders. The rocket landed before Karzai arrived in the town.

Karzai’s visit of the area coincided with the deaths of two NATO soldiers in the volatile southern region. NATO military said in a statement that one of the soldiers was killed by a small arms fire attack, while the other died in a roadside bomb attack.

The military did not disclose the nationalities of the soldiers, not did it say where exactly in the region the attack took place. Most of the soldiers stationed in the region are from the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands.

–DPA

vd/vt

( 539 Words)

2010-03-07-21:29:07