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Bush calls Afghan leader for talks on security

By Staff
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KABUL, May 2 (Reuters) US President George W Bush telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai today and assured Afghanistan of US support in the fight against terrorism and reconstruction, a spokesman for the Afghan president said.

The United States is Afghanistan's most important ally and has more than 19,000 troops in the country. Bush made his first visit to Afghanistan in March.

Bush congratulated Karzai on the approval of his cabinet by parliament last month and they also exchanged views on a range of other issues, said Karzai's spokesman, Khaliq Ahmad.

''President Bush assured President Karzai that the United States will continue to support Afghanistan in the fight against terrorism and the reconstruction of Afghanistan,'' Ahmad said.

Ahmad had no further details of the talks but in Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said they also discussed the deployment of NATO troops to Afghanistan, bolstering the Afghan police force and counternarcotics efforts.

They also discussed the importance of cooperation with Pakistan, McClellan said.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan -- both major US allies in the war on terrorism -- soured in February when Afghanistan again complained that Taliban insurgents were able to operate from the safety of Pakistan.

Pakistan, which is battling pro-Taliban and al Qaeda militants on its side of the border, rejected the Afghan complaints and raised questions about Karzai's leadership.

US officials have said they want to promote cooperation between the neighbours.

Afghan, Pakistani and US troops began two days of joint military exercises in Pakistan today aimed at forging better coordination in hunting al Qaeda and Taliban militants.

It was the first time Afghan troops had taken part in the exercises.

Violence has intensified in Afghanistan in recent months with scores of people killed in clashes and roadside or suicide blasts as NATO members build up troop numbers.

As more NATO troops arrive, the United States will cut its troop level from more than 19,000 to about 16,500.

Reuters SI GC2200

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