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Karzai eyes more NATO forces

Seeks increase before election

WASHINGTON -- President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said yesterday that he hopes NATO will send more peacekeeping troops before September when his country is scheduled to hold its first free election.

''To fulfill the promise that we have been made, we are hoping that NATO will come to Afghanistan before the elections of September," he said at a joint news conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

NATO already is running the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, the Afghan capital, as well as a reconstruction operation in the northern city of Kunduz. The alliance has pledged to expand its security operations to cities elsewhere in the war-torn country this summer.

Karzai and Rumsfeld spoke beside a memorial plaque on a section of the Pentagon's western wall that marks the spot where American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building on Sept. 11, 2001, killing all 64 aboard the hijacked plane and 125 people in the building.

Karzai is scheduled to meet with President Bush today.

Asked about the chances of capturing Osama bin Laden, Rumsfeld said he was certain he would be caught eventually. Karzai said bin Laden is on the run and could not stay hidden indefinitely.

''Has a fugitive run forever? No, at least not in my country," Karzai said. ''We will catch him one day, sooner or later."

Karzai, who is president by vote of a loya jirga, or grand council, under traditional Afghan practice, is running for the presidency in the September election against a number of challengers.

He said he was satisfied that the US government has remained focused on its commitment to help Afghanistan establish a national government and to rebuild from years of war.

''We would not be having a specific request for more US troops in Afghanistan," he said. ''The United States is already busy in Afghanistan helping us in reconstruction and helping us fight terrorism and helping us secure our borders."

The United States in recent months has increased its force in Afghanistan, which now stands at about 20,000 troops.

In an impromptu quip, Karzai seemed to hint at being weary of the heavy US military presence in his country.

As a helicopter flew overhead, prompting Karzai to interrupt his opening remarks, he said with a smile while pointing to the sky, ''You see that too often in Afghanistan."

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