- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 20, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai yesterday challenged the need for major foreign military operations in Afghanistan, saying air strikes are no longer effective and that U.S.-led coalition forces should focus on rooting out terror bases and support networks.

His call for a new approach to tackling militants came despite the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces invaded in late 2001, with more than 1,200 people killed in the six months leading up to Sunday’s historic legislative elections.

Mr. Karzai demanded an immediate end to foreign troops searching people’s homes without his government’s authorization. He also said foreign governments should “concentrate on where terrorists are trained, on their bases, on the supply to them, on the money coming to them” — a veiled reference to support that militants get from neighboring Pakistan.

Afghan officials have repeatedly accused Pakistan of aiding Taliban rebels and other militants, a charge Islamabad denies.

“I don’t think there is a big need for military activity in Afghanistan anymore,” Mr. Karzai told reporters. “The nature of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has changed now.

“No coalition forces should go to Afghan homes without the authorization of the Afghan government. … The use of air power is something that may not be very effective now. … That’s what I mean by a change in strategy.”

It was the second time Mr. Karzai has publicly challenged the U.S.-led coalition. In May, before a trip to Washington, he demanded more authority over the 20,000-member U.S.-led coalition here, but President Bush said they would remain under American control. In addition to the coalition troops, there are 11,000 NATO peacekeepers in Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai’s comments coincided with the start of the count from the Sunday’s parliamentary elections — the first here in more than 30 years.

The Bush administration’s frustration with the media’s coverage of historic elections in Afghanistan bubbled to the surface yesterday in the form of a lecture from Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Appearing in the Pentagon press room with Gen. Richard B. Myers, Joint Chiefs chairman, Mr. Rumsfeld read press clippings on how Afghanistan would become another Vietnam and then praised Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

Administration officials privately complained this week that the press failed to grasp the significance of Sunday’s balloting, by either giving it minor coverage or writing stories that downplayed what happened.

History will look back on it as having been an amazing accomplishment, Mr. Rumsfeld said. In four years, Afghanistan has been transformed from the place where bin Laden trained terrorists who attacked America on September 11, 2001, to a democracy that fights al Qaeda.

Mr. Rumsfeld offered no direct response to Mr. Karzai’s comments, but said the U.S. task force coordinates operations with the Karzai government.

• Staff writer Rowan Scarborough contributed to this report in Washington.

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