Karzai: Russia in defense deal with Afghanistan
By FISNIK ABRASHI,Associated Press Writer AP - 31 minutes ago
KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai's office said Monday that Russia is ready to cooperate on defense matters with Afghanistan. The announcement coincides with an increasingly public tussle between Afghan and Western officials.
Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev told Karzai in a letter that cooperation on defense issues would "be effective for both countries and also effective for maintaining security in the region," Karzai's office said in a statement.
"As a friendly government to Afghanistan, Russia is ready to offer its cooperation to an independent and a democratic Afghanistan," the statement quoted Medvedev as saying.
The statement did not say how the two countries would cooperate.
A spokesman at the Kremlin in Russia said he did not immediately have any details about the exchange between Medvedev and Karzai.
Moscow would have little to gain if the U.S. and NATO mission to defeat the Taliban and install a strong central Afghan government failed. The relationship between NATO and Russia has been delicate for years, but Russia in November allowed Spain and Germany to use Russian rail lines to ship supplies for their forces in Afghanistan.
The correspondence from Karzai _ on the eve of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration _ comes as Afghan officials are fighting criticism that Karzai's government is weak and corrupt.
U.S. Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton recently used the term "narco state" to describe Afghanistan in recent written Senate testimony, a choice of words that drew the ire of Afghan officials. Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta told The Associated Press over the weekend that the use of the term was "absolutely wrong" and suggested the drug trade in the country's south was a result of the presence of NATO forces there.
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer wrote in an opinion column Sunday that the West has paid enough in blood and money "to demand that the Afghan government take more concrete and vigorous action to root out corruption and increase efficiency."
In the country's latest violence, a roadside bomb struck a police vehicle in southern Helmand province's Gereshk district on Monday, killing two policemen and wounding three civilians, said Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor.
Separately, a suicide car bomb attack near the gates of a U.S. base in eastern Afghanistan on Monday killed one Afghan civilian and wounded six more, officials said.
The attack targeted Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost City, near the border with Pakistan, said Lt. Cmdr. James Gater, a spokesman for the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan.
A second suicide bomber was waiting for emergency officials to respond to the first attack, but he was detected by police and detonated his explosives early, killing only himself, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.
Violence has been rising across Afghanistan the last two years. Obama has promised to increase America's focus on the deteriorating situation in the country while decreasing troop levels in Iraq.
The U.S. has said it will send up to 30,000 new troops into Afghanistan in 2009, including some 3,000 forces in two provinces adjacent to Kabul, where militants now have free rein. The U.S. now has some 32,000 troops in Afghanistan.
Russian soldiers were part of the Soviet Army that occupied Afghanistan throughout the 1980s, before being forced to withdraw in 1989 following years of a U.S.-supported insurgency that drained Soviet resources and contributed to the country's collapse.
Associated Press reporters Jason Straziuso and Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.
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