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Karzai seeks tribal support for military operation

By Atia Abawi, CNN
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says a planned military push won't happen until tribal leaders approve it.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says a planned military push won't happen until tribal leaders approve it.
  • Afghan president says military push won't happen until tribal leaders give OK
  • U.S. and NATO troops planning massive operation to push Taliban out of area
  • U.S. commander accompanies Karzai as he meets with tribal leaders in the province
  • Taliban believed to be preparing a counter-offensive

(CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai met with tribal leaders Sunday in the violence-plagued Kandahar province to shore up support for an impending military offensive. He promised to hold back until he had their backing.

"We will not conduct the operations in Kandahar until you say we can," Karzai told about 1,000 tribal leaders at a shura, or conference, at the governor's compound in the southern province.

Karzai, accompanied by the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, said he will see that similar gatherings are held throughout the region to gauge the opinion of the people.

"I'll tell you what is in my heart, and you need to share what is in your heart," Karzai told the tribal leaders. Kandahar is the home of Karzai's tribe and ancestors.

U.S. and NATO troops are planning a massive military offensive to wrest control of the region from Taliban militants.

Most of the gathered leaders were apprehensive about the operation. They worried that the military push was planned during harvest.

The Taliban were believed to be preparing their own operation, because they have a heads-up.

Haji Agha Lala, a tribal leader, said those at the gathering could not speak frankly because the threat of the Taliban was ever-present.

Another tribal leader told CNN that Kandahar "has one government during the day, [and] another takes control over the night," referring to the Taliban.

Those at the conference said their problem wasn't just with the Taliban, but with Afghan security forces, national police and the Afghan army, who don't make them feel safe.

Some say they prefer to negotiate with the Taliban rather than engage them in an offensive.

Others lamented the lack of security and basic services.

"Every tribe wants to protect their own thief," Karzai said. "We need to stop doing that so that we can fix the country."

In a speech last week that grabbed much attention, Karzai blamed the international community for the accusations of fraud in the vote that saw him re-elected.

"In today's speech, I am pointing that finger at myself," Karzai said, implying that the government needs to hear the concerns of the people.

Asked about Karzai's recent remarks, McChrystal said, "I spend most of my time thinking not about what people say but what they do, and my partnership with President Karzai has been something I've been pleased with and something I've relied on as we've moved forward in operations, and that's reflected in his people and his government that I've worked with."