Obama Pledges Support to Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan -- U.S. presidential contender Barack Obama pledged steadfast aid to Afghanistan in talks with its Western-backed leader Sunday and vowed to pursue the war on terror "with vigor" if he is elected, an Afghan official said.

On the third day of an international tour designed to burnish his foreign policy credentials, Obama and other American senators held two hours of talks with President Hamid Karzai at his palace in the Afghan capital.

Obama has chided Karzai for not doing more to build confidence in the Afghan government, whose grip remains weak eight years after the ouster of the Taliban.

U.S. Embassy spokesman Mark Stroh said the senators discussed the painstaking rebuilding of the country's government and economy, the security situation and corruption with Karzai.

The Afghan presidency said Obama's message was positive.

"Senator Obama conveyed ... that he is committed to supporting Afghanistan and to continue the war against terrorism with vigor," said Humayun Hamidzada, Karzai's spokesman.

Both Democrats and Republicans "are friends of Afghanistan and no matter who wins the U.S. elections, Afghanistan will have a very strong partner in the United States," Hamidzada said.

Obama, the presumed Democratic candidate for the U.S. election in November, has made Afghanistan a centerpiece of his proposed strategy for dealing with terrorism threats.

He has said the war in Afghanistan, where Taliban and al-Qaida-linked militants are resurgent, deserves more troops and more attention as opposed to the conflict in Iraq.

While officially part of a congressional delegation on a fact-finding tour also expected to take him to Iraq, Obama was traveling in Afghanistan amid the security accorded a likely Democratic nominee for president rather than a senator from Illinois.

Media access to Obama was limited, and his itinerary in the war zones was a closely guarded secret. Traveling with him were Senators Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, and Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island.

Obama made no public comment after the meeting with Karzai, which included a traditional lunch of mutton, chicken and rice washed down with a yogurt drink.

Earlier in the day, he praised U.S. troops while eating breakfast with soldiers at Camp Eggers, a heavily fortified military base in the city.

"To see young people like this who are doing such excellent work, with so much dedication ... it makes you feel good about the country," Obama said.

n A foreign airstrike killed nine Afghan policemen in western Afghanistan overnight after a clash, Afghan officials said Sunday, Reuters reported.

Clashes broke out between Afghan police and international troops in the Anar Dara district of Farah province, with both sides thinking the other were Taliban militants, the deputy provincial governor Mohammad Younus Rasuli said.

"Apart from the nine police who were killed, three other of them have gone missing. We do not know if they are under the rubble or their bodies can not be found," Rasuli said.