Karzai: Helmand was safer before UK troops arrived

Monday - 2/4/2013, 6:59am EST

By CASSANDRA VINOGRAD
Associated Press

LONDON (AP) - Security in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province was better before the arrival of British troops, the country's president Hamid Karzai said Monday.

Karzai said in an interview with The Guardian and ITV News that it's possible western forces are being drawn down in Afghanistan because international leaders realized "they were fighting in the wrong place" and that he expects fighting to diminish once NATO forces withdraw.

Karzai is in London for meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to discuss prospects for peace talks with the Taliban.

Karzai said Helmand province _ where the U.S-led coalition has lost more soldiers than anywhere else _ was more peaceful before British troops arrived in 2006, but that he didn't want to lay blame.

"Whatever happened was the past, and now we are looking forward to the future," he said.

A spokesman for Cameron would not say if the prime minister agreed with Karzai's characterization that security in Helmand was better before U.K. troops arrived.

"We believe progress is being made," Jean-Christophe Gray said. "That's why we think the approach that we're taking is the right one."

Karzai said the greatest threat to his country's prospects is foreign meddling, but that he was more optimistic than a year ago that behind-the-scenes discussions between his government and the Taliban would prove fruitful, as relations with Pakistan improved.

"There will not be peace in Afghanistan by having an agreement only between us and the Afghan Taliban. Peace will only come when the external elements involved in creating instability and fighting, or lawlessness in Afghanistan, are involved in talks," he said, praising Britain's role in negotiations.

The talks in London _which will include Afghan and Pakistani army and intelligence chiefs _ are expected to focus on preventing a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan when British and other NATO troops withdraw from the country next year.

Cameron initiated the meetings last year, aiming to boost cooperation between the countries and promote regional stability.


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