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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 February 2008, 16:39 GMT
Karzai denies tensions with West
Condoleezza Rice, Hamid Karzai and David Miliband at a news conference in Kabul on Thursday
The three leaders put on a display of unity in Kabul

President Hamid Karzai has played down tensions over the role of foreign countries operating in Afghanistan.

Speaking at a news conference in Kabul, Mr Karzai expressed gratitude to Nato members that had contributed troops.

At his side, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted progress was being made fighting insurgents but admitted the work was "not complete".

Her unannounced visit, with UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, comes amid differences in Nato over Afghanistan.

The US and UK have been urging other countries to share more of the combat burden in the south of the country, but many are reluctant.

Speaking at a meeting of Nato defence ministers in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said some progress had been made.

"We are making progress... but we're not there yet and we have to do better," he said.

If terrorism is not dealt with in Afghanistan, the consequences will be felt not just in Afghanistan and the region, but also in London, Brussels and Amsterdam
Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Nato Secretary General

He cited Belgium's recent offer of four F-16 fighter planes and Poland's increase in its troop presence.

French officials have also said President Nicolas Sarkozy was considering sending more troops, but refused to confirm plans to send 700 paratroops to the south.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said he was disappointed with some countries' responses and that strengthening the force would hasten the Taleban's defeat.

"My view is that it represents potentially the opportunity to make further progress faster in Afghanistan if we had more forces there," he said.

But Taleban spokesman, Yousuf Ahmadi, told the BBC any increase in troops would be ineffective, and it would simply increase the determination of the Taleban to succeed.


Relations between the Afghan government and Nato allies had been strained by Mr Karzai's assertion that despite British efforts, the situation had worsened in southern Helmand province where most UK forces are based.

Bar chart showing numbers of principal ISAF troop contributors in Afghanistan

He also recently blocked the appointment of the UK's Paddy Ashdown as a UN envoy.

But at the news conference he played down his criticism, saying it was a "personal matter of sadness" that the appointment of Lord Ashdown "did not work out".

He said his remarks about the situation in Helmand province had been "misquoted", adding: "We appreciate the British role in Afghanistan and the contribution they have made."

Afghanistan "hasn't been forgotten" by the international community, he said.

The BBC's Alistair Leithead in Kabul says that despite the handshakes and camera flashes at his meeting with Ms Rice and Mr Miliband, there is a lot more to do be done behind the scenes to repair relations and get the international community's efforts properly co-ordinated.

'Terror threat'

Correspondents say Mr Karzai's remarks accorded with the display of unity by all three participants at the conference, with neither Ms Rice nor Mr Miliband making explicit reference to the current differences in Nato over troop commitments to the country.

But earlier, Mr de Hoop Scheffer said he would be spelling out to the Nato ministers that member nations had to do more to train and equip the Afghan army.

The faster we send more troops to clear this mess up, the faster a tactical withdrawal can take place
Ben Lowen, Halifax, UK

Nato's mission in the country was one of necessity, not choice, he added.

"This is the front line in the fight against terrorism, and what is happening in the Hindu Kush matters, because if terrorism is not dealt with in Afghanistan, the consequences will be felt not just in Afghanistan and the region, but also in London, Brussels and Amsterdam," he told the BBC.

Speaking earlier to frontline forces in Kandahar, Ms Rice echoed the theme, saying their fight was necessary to prevent "the attacks against our cities and against our people that originated here".

Despite the recent squabbles over burden-sharing in Afghanistan, says the BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Vilnius, it is unlikely, however, that more combat troops will be offered at the two-day Lithuanian meeting.

But officials are hoping it will pave the way for further contributions to be made at Nato's summit in Bucharest in April, she says.

Most of the fighting in the volatile southern provinces is being done by troops from the US, UK, Canada and the Netherlands.

Many US allies, including Germany, Spain, Turkey and Italy, have refused to send significant numbers of combat forces there.

Map showing command centres and lead nations in reconstruction areas in Afghanistan
Countries contributing more than 1,000 troops (6 February 2008):
Australia - 1,070
Canada 2,500
France 1,515
Germany - 3,210
Italy - 2,880
Netherlands - 1,650
Poland - 1,100
UK - 7,800
US - 15,000
Figures approximate
Source: ISAF

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