Washington – President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai sought Wednesday to project a unified front on defeating the Taliban-led insurgency, acknowledging past differences but insisting that reports of tensions over corruption in Karzai’s government and civilian deaths from U.S. military operations were overblown.
Speaking at a White House news conference with Karzai, Obama insisted that the U.S.-led military campaign is beginning to “reverse” the expansion of the insurgency and he urged Americans to have patience, warning that “there is going to be some hard fighting over the next couple of months.”
“We are steadily making progress,” Obama said, adding that he remains confident that U.S. troop withdrawal can begin in July 2011 as districts cleared of Taliban fighters in south and east Afghanistan are turned over to Afghan government control.
The news conference came on the third day of Karzai’s four-day visit to Washington with a delegation of his top officials aimed at soothing friction between his government and the Obama administration.
The administration has laid on the full red-carpet treatment for the Afghan leader in an effort to confine behind closed doors serious tensions over Karzai’s failure to crack down on corruption throughout his government fueled by narcotics trafficking, his continued patronage of ethnic warlords and other issues.
For his part, Karzai has complained repeatedly about civilian casualties caused by U.S.-led military operations, and he unleashed a series of anti-Western diatribes reflecting the pressure he is under from popular discontent over the U.S.-led military force’s failure to crush the Taliban-led insurgency after nearly nine years of war.
Karzai’s visit came amid a U.S. troop buildup and offensive operations aimed at extending his government’s authority across the Taliban’s heartland of southern Afghanistan.
Obama and Karzai insisted that relations between their governments are closer than ever, while conceding that there have been disagreements.
“Obviously there are going to be tensions in such a complicated and difficult environment and in a situation in which, on the ground, both Afghans and Americans are making enormous sacrifices,” Obama said.
But, he said, reports about their differences “were simply overstated.”
“There are days when we have definitely had a difference of opinion,” said Karzai, speaking in English. “The bottom line is that we are much more strongly related to each other today than we ever were before.”