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Karzai Heads for Washington - 2002-01-26


Afghanistan's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, is heading for Washington under tight security.

Mr. Karzai's exact travel schedule is being kept secret, but he is scheduled to meet at the White House Monday with President Bush. He also will be the guest of honor at Mr. Bush's State of the Union address to Congress Tuesday night.

On Saturday, a spokesman for Mr. Karzai (Yosuf Nooristani) told Reuters news agency that Afghanistan's government wants U-S forces to remain in the country until the al-Qaida terrorist network is wiped out. Mr. Karzai is expected to make that request to President Bush at their meeting.

Meanwhile, the commander of U-S forces in Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, continued his high-level meetings in the region Saturday as he met in Islamabad with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. General Franks defended U-S military tactics in Afghanistan and he said there are no plans to move U-S troops from Pakistan as the campaign against terrorism continues.

General Franks also said the priority is to prevent new acts of terrorism, as U-S intelligence experts gather information by sifting through material they have seized and interrogating hundreds of prisoners.

Suspected al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and ousted Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar remain unaccounted for.

In another development, the Associated Press is quoting Afghan villagers who are disputing U-S accounts of a recent clash that left 15 people dead.

The U-S Defense Department first said Wednesday's raid by special forces targeted al-Qaida members. But Friday, the Pentagon said it was an attack on an arms munition compound and that 15 pro-Taleban fighters were killed.

The A-P report quotes villagers in the Uruzgan province, north of Kandahar, as saying the victims were not fighters but Afghans who were negotiating the surrender of weapons from Taleban renegades.

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