Bush stands by Karzai against resurgent Taliban

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NEW YORK, Sep 26 (Reuters) President George W Bush reasserted his support for Afghan President Hamid Karzai in talks today, affirming U.S. commitment to his government as it faces resurgent Taliban attacks.

''It's in the interest of the United States that we continue to help you,'' Bush said after meeting Karzai on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session. ''It's in our security interest that this democracy flourish.'' Despite Western backing, Karzai has come under pressure after some of the worst violence in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001. He is also struggling to shore up his government undermined by tribal rifts, strong warlord control in the provinces and a thriving opium trade.

Bush's critics say the Iraq war has distracted his administration from the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda, which they say should be the real focus of the president's war against terrorism.

Sitting side by side with Karzai, Bush reaffirmed his support, but made no mention of the Taliban's resurgence in the last 19 months.

''I thank you for your courage and your leadership,'' he said.

''This country has gone from a brutal tyranny where women and girls were repressed to a country where women and girls have hope.'' He cited signs of improvement such as girls now going to school, greater availability of health care and a decline in child mortality rates, points he has repeated often in public remarks on Afghanistan in the last few years.

''Afghanistan indeed has made progress,'' Karzai agreed.

The White House said the leaders discussed the importance of anti-narcotics efforts as well as counterterrorism.

The area in Afghanistan used to grow opium poppies -- the source of heroin -- grew by 17 per cent this year and the country now produces 93 per cent of the world's opium, UN figures show.

US-led forces toppled the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks for giving refuge to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. About 50,000 foreign troops are deployed in the country in support of Karzai's government.

Reuters PD DB2204

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