Karzai calls for Nato-led troops to withdraw from rural areas as Taliban suspend talks with US

 

International troops should pull out of villages and rural areas to main bases, Afghanistan's president has said.

Hamid Karzai, angered by a US soldier's killing of 16 civilians, said Afghan forces should take the lead for countrywide security in 2013, ahead of the planned withdrawal of coalition troops in 2014.

And in a blow to the campaign in Afghanistan, the Taliban said it was breaking off talks with the United States, claiming the US kept changing the terms of negotiations.

In a statement after meeting visiting US defence secretary Leon Panetta, Mr Karzai said: "Afghan security forces have the ability to keep the security in rural areas and in villages on their own."

Speaking from Helmand provincial capital Lashkar Gah before Mr Karzai's statement, Lt Col Gordon Mackenzie, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said significant progress had already been made towards handing control of security to Afghan forces.

Security in Lashkar Gah is already under Afghan control. Since New Year, large parts of the Nad-e Ali district have begun to pass into the hands of local security forces.

He added that announcements were expected from the Afghan government by May and then again in October which could see control of much of the British-controlled central Helmand transition to local forces.

Lt Col Mackenzie added: "British forces will increasingly take on a mentoring and supporting role.

"Already some troops who started this tour in traditional infantry jobs have retrained as mentors and advisors to the Afghan Police.

"This is the kind of role we will expand into as the Afghan forces increasingly take the lead on security."

In his statement, Mr Karzai said he had conveyed his demand to Mr Panetta during their meeting.

Mr Karzai spoke as Afghan MPs were expressing outrage that the US flew the soldier suspected of the civilian killings to Kuwait when they were demanding he be tried in the country.

The soldier, who has not been named, is accused of going on a shooting rampage in villages near his base in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, killing nine children and seven other civilians, and then burning some of their bodies.

Mr Karzai told Mr Panetta that the shootings in southern Afghanistan were cruel and everything must be done to prevent any such incidents in the future.

He said that was the reason he was demanding the pull-out from rural areas and early transfer of security.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister David Cameron said in Washington yesterday that they and their Nato allies were committed to shifting to a support role in Afghanistan in 2013.

Mr Obama gave his fullest endorsement yet for the mission shift, but he said the overall plan to gradually withdraw forces and hand over security in Afghanistan will stand.

In January, after French president Nicolas Sarkozy suggested that foreign forces speed up their timetable for handing combat operations to Afghan forces in 2013, Karzai said he would be in favour of that - if it were achievable.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the insurgent group wanted to limit talks to prisoner transfers and the establishment of a political office in Qatar, but US negotiators wanted to broaden the discussion.

The Taliban did not want the Afghan government included in the talks, he said.

"Because of these American changes, the Taliban was obliged to stop the talks," Mr Mujahid said.

AP

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