By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 5, 2007 - Beginning a two-day meeting today with President Bush at Camp David, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he's ready to roll up his sleeves and talk about security concerns affecting his country. "(We will discuss) issues of concern to Afghanistan with the construction, with the fight against narcotics, civilian casualties, (and) the strengthening of Afghan security forces," Karzai said during a taped interview with CNN's "Late Edition" that aired this morning.
Karzai cited civilian casualties as a major concern with the fight against terrorism in its fifth year in Afghanistan. "The Afghan people have been steadfast helpers providing assistance to the international coalition against terror," he said. "The Afghan people have suffered as a result of terrorist activity in Afghanistan, and also as a result of the fight against terror."
He expressed concern that civilian deaths have resulted from allied actions as well as from terrorists. "We have to do everything ... that we can to reduce civilian casualties," he said. "They are allies in the fight against terror and allies have to be protected."
Unlike many of its neighbors in the region that consider Iran a major threat to stability there, Karzai said it's been supportive of Afghanistan as it deals with its problems. "We've had very, very good, very, very close relations," he said. "So far, Iraq has been a helper and a solution."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, also interviewed today on CNN "Late Edition," expressed skepticism about Iran's assistance.
"I think Iran is playing both sides of the street in Afghanistan," the secretary said. "I think they are doing some things to help the Afghan government. I think they are also doing some things to help the Taliban, including providing weapons."
Karzai told CNN he believes everything possible is being done to ensure safe release of South Korean Christian missionaries kidnapped by Taliban militants. The group of 23 missionaries was taken July 19 in the central Ghanzi province. Since then, two of the hostages have been killed. Of the 21 remaining hostages, 18 are women.
"We want the safe release of the Koreans taken hostage by terrorists in Afghanistan. These terrorists, as you know, mostly have a foreign origin," Karzai said.
The Afghan government has refused to agree to a trade that would free Taliban militants being detained for the South Korean hostages. "We will do everything, other than encouraging hostage-taking and terrorism, to have them released," Karzai said.
The increase in the number of foreign fighters crossing the border from Pakistan – thought to be 50 to 60 percent greater than it was at this time last year -- is at least partly to blame, Karzai said. He said he won't discuss this problem with Bush, but will save it for an upcoming session with Pakistani President Perev Musharraf.
"(Terrorists) have burned our schools. They've killed international helpers of Afghanistan, aid workers. They've kidnapped people," Karzai said. "That is exactly what we are trying to prevent. That is exactly what we are trying to, together with Pakistan, reduce, so that ultimately we have a complete defeat of terrorism in this part of the world."
Karzai said more than his own country has a stake in this effort. "It's not only the security of Afghanistan. It's how we deal with the international terrorism altogether," he said.
Bush and Karzai are scheduled to hold a news conference as their meeting wraps up tomorrow.