Karzai, Bush to Discuss Stability

KABUL, Afghanistan/WASHINGTON -- Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai was on his way to Washington on Sunday for a meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush while American forces swooped on an Afghan settlement in their hunt for remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida network.

But as Afghanistan begins its journey to stability, some tribal leaders questioned the make-up of a UN-appointed commission designed to summon a loya jirga, or grand assembly, saying some of its expatriate members were out of touch with the needs of the people.

Although the 21-member commission designed to take the first steps toward an elected government was described by Karzai as impartial, its composition of little-known and at least some expatriate Afghans was questioned.

"It would have been better had members for the jirga commission been selected from people living inside Afghanistan," said Haji Mauladad, a tribal leader in the southern town of Spin Boldak. "The commission members do not know the problems and aspirations of the Afghan people."

As Kabul looked to future peace, U.S. forces continued operations in eastern Afghanistan to mop up remnants of the Taliban and hunt for suspected terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida fighters.

U.S. jets and helicopters rumbled in the skies as ground troops searched nomads' tents in Khost Bak district, 28 kilometers north of the city of Khost, but no al-Qaida or Taliban were found, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press said Sunday.

On a visit to Pakistan, General Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, vowed he would not let a tense standoff between India and Pakistan disrupt his mission to rid Afghanistan of al-Qaida and find its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Saudi-born bin Laden is Washington's prime suspect for the September attacks on the United States that killed more than 3,000 people.

"We continue to operate search-and-rescue efforts out of here. I have not, and will not, move our forces," he told a news conference after talks with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Franks, who arrived in Pakistan from Kabul, said the hunt for bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar would go on.

Despite taking more than 450 al-Qaida and Taliban captives, Washington still has no idea about the fate of bin Laden, variously reported as dead of kidney failure, safe in remote western Pakistan tribal areas, or still inside Afghanistan.

"We do not know the location of bin Laden. We do not know the location of Omar. What we do know, every day, is that we receive fresh intelligence information and some of it turns out to be good information and some of it not," Franks said.

Karzai, appointed leader of Afghanistan's six-month interim government after the overthrow of the Taliban late last year, will meet Bush on Monday and tell him he does not want the U.S. campaign to end until al-Qaida members are swept from his land, an aide said in Kabul.

Karzai was also expected to visit New York, where aides say he plans to visit the site of the collapsed World Trade Center towers and pay his respects to those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Meanwhile, The Washington Times reported Saturday that White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez wrote in a memo to Bush that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell had "requested that you reconsider that decision" not to call 158 Taliban and al-Qaida detainees at a prison in Cuba prisoners of war.

The memo marks a break from the Bush administration's decision to deny the detainees prisoners of war status, a designation giving rights under the Geneva Conventions.

The United States has been accused by human rights groups and some politicians at home and abroad of treating the prisoners inhumanely -- charges denied by Washington.