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Karzai: U.S. must have patience if Afghanistan not ready

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Karzai on troop increase
  • NEW: "Proof is in the pudding" on Afghan reform promises, Hillary Clinton says
  • "We will try our best" to be ready to take over security in 2011, Karzai says
  • President Obama has said U.S. troops will start leaving Afghanistan in 2011
  • Afghan president says Obama timeline is a goal, not "an exit announcement"

(CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Sunday the United States and its allies must have patience if his country is not ready to assume control of its own security by July 2011, when U.S. troops would begin leaving under President Obama's plan.

Karzai spoke to CNN's "Amanpour" program in his first television interview since Obama's announcement last week that he will deploy an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Obama also said the U.S. forces would begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011.

The date was not "an exit announcement," but instead a goal for Afghan forces to be able to start assuming security control from U.S.-led allied forces, Karzai said in the interview.

"We will try our best as the Afghan people to do it the soonest possible," Karzai said. "But the international community must have also the patience with us and the realization of the realities in Afghanistan. If it takes longer, then they must be with us."

Karzai also offered his own timeline goal, saying Afghanistan wants to be able to assume security control in some parts of the country in two years, and to lead security for the entire country by the end of his five-year term, which just started after his recent re-election.

"We as Afghans will try our very best to reach that goal, and we hope our allies will back us to reach that goal," Karzai said.

Later Sunday, Obama's national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones, told CNN's "State of the Union" that the July 2011 date was "not a cliff" for U.S. withdrawal, but instead the start of a gradual slope for turning over security responsibility to Afghanistan.

Obama "has also said that we're not leaving Afghanistan," Jones noted, adding: "We are here to make sure that Afghanistan succeeds."

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To prepare his country, Karzai said, he would do all he can to root out corruption and improve governance. He has fired corrupt officials already, he said, adding he is prepared to act against anyone proven to be breaking the law.

However, he warned against other nations using the corruption as a political tool in making decisions about Afghanistan. And he said the United States and its allies also must halt practices that contribute to corruption from outside the country or create what he called "parallel" governance issues.

The main objective for Afghanistan and its allies is to defeat terrorism and return peace to the nation, neighboring Pakistan and the region, Karzai said. That means training Afghan security forces, rebuilding the economy and other nation-building efforts, he said.

"I have fired people and I will be firing people," Karzai said. He seemed to laugh when he was played a video clip of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs saying the United States would bypass corrupt government officials if necessary.

"Afghanistan is a sovereign country, it has a sovereign government, it's not an occupied country," Karzai said, adding that a foreign power can't undermine or go around the government to deal with whomever it chooses.

Top priorities on a "long list" of reforms include improving the rule of law, improving the judiciary, reducing bureaucracy that forces people to visit dozens of offices to get licenses, and other steps to make the government more transparent and simpler, Karzai said.

However, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in interviews broadcast Sunday that Karzai still must prove he means what he says.

"The proof is in the pudding," Clinton said on the ABC program "This Week." "We're going to have to wait to see how it unfolds."

U.S. assistance will be "based on a certification of accountability and transparency," Clinton said on the CBS program "Face the Nation," adding that "certain ministries ... American money will not be going to."

In his CNN interview, Karzai said his government would welcome Taliban supporters who had no ties to al Qaeda or other terrorist networks, renounced violence and pledged to support the constitution.

Clinton told ABC's "This Week" that such reintegration might be possible with lower-level Taliban members, but not the hard-core leadership.

I have fired people and I will be firing people.
--Afghan President Hamid Karzai

"We have no firm information whether any of those leaders would be at all interested in following that kind of a path," Clinton said. "In fact, I'm highly skeptical that any of them would."

Eradicating terrorist networks and helping Karzai's government defeat the Taliban insurgency are main goals of the U.S.-led mission.

Approximately 1,000 U.S. Marines are expected to deploy this month as the first wave of the new deployment, military officials say. The Army may not deploy the first soldiers until at least March.

Testifying before a congressional committee last week, Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said a "significant" number of troops will arrive in the spring and summer, with the final troops moving to Afghanistan by late summer or early fall.

Meanwhile, the White House said Obama would meet with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, on Monday. Both are expected to testify before Congress this week.

Clinton and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday that Britain, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and non-NATO member Georgia are among at least 25 countries offering to send a total of 7,000 additional troops.

At present, there are 68,000 U.S. troops operating under both NATO and U.S. commands in Afghanistan, and around 42,000 non-U.S. forces under NATO.