Karzai: Afghanistan needs more protection

During a meeting today in Kabul with the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, Afghanistan's interim president, Hamid Karzai, repeated his call for more international troops to protect his country, following the violent death of his tourism minister at the city's airport.

During a meeting today in Kabul with the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, Afghanistan's interim president, Hamid Karzai, repeated his call for more international troops to protect his country, following the violent death of his tourism minister at the city's airport.

Mr Karzai said the killing of the minister, Abdul Rahman, took place in mysterious circumstances and could have been carried out by al-Qaida terrorists still operating in Afghanistan.

Mr Straw's RAF Hercules landed at Kabul international airport just a few hours after Dr Rahman was killed en route to Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

Afghan foreign ministry officials said a mob of around 900 pilgrims, angry after a two-day delay and a long wait in a freezing cold terminal, had gathered at the airport.

The foreign secretary's plane today remained on the military side of the airport, but the chartered aircraft from which Mr Rahman was dragged was within the civilian sector.

The incident raised serious questions about the effectiveness of the 4,000-member UK-led international security assistance force in Kabul.

Mr Karzai emerged from talks with Mr Straw at the presidential palace in Kabul and told reporters that Mr Rahman's murder was a "tragic, tragic event".

He called an emergency cabinet meeting last night and set up a commission of four ministers to investigate the incident. Mr Karzai said he wanted London and Washington to commit to more ISAF troops to prevent incidents like that happening.

Mr Karzai said: "We will find out who did this. As we all know, we still have a prevalence of terrorism in Afghanistan, they can come in any form.

"That is what I kept repeating, when I was in the UK and Washington, I kept asking that my people say we need more of the security assistance force. The incident last night proves our point."

Mr Straw admitted that the Dr Rahman's brutal murder did raise serious questions, but he did not promise more troops.

"There is an issue of security in Afghanistan, everybody knows that - that is why we have been playing such an important central role," he said.

The international community wanted to see a fully national Afghan army and a national police service trained up as soon as possible, Mr Straw said. There would be "intensive discussions" about what, where and how ISAF was expanded after Britain finishes its lead nation role in April.

"I recognise the strong case chairman Karzai makes for that [expansion] but we have to make sure if we are going to put troops elsewhere we do so in secure, safe conditions where everybody understands their role," Mr Straw said.

"What we have to recognise is the huge relative progress that is being made in the country between the fall of Kabul in early November and the establishment in December of the interim authority.

"There is a degree of security and safety unknown to people for many years before. This shows that, yes, there is a huge way to go in this country but, by God, let us celebrate what has been achieved in three months," he said.

Earlier, the foreign secretary met with his Afghan counterpart, Abdullah Abdullah, to discuss ISAF. They discussed the possibility of Turkey, the only Muslim member of Nato, taking over the lead of ISAF when Britain steps down.

Staff and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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