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Karzai seeks answers on U.S. troop plan

The Afghan leader wanted to know about strategy and asked to be consulted on missions.

KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai pressed America's top military leader yesterday on the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and preparations to pour as many as 30,000 more forces into the country, reflecting Karzai's concerns over civilian casualties and operations in villages.

Karzai asked Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, what kinds of operations the newly deployed troops would carry out and told him that the Afghan government should be consulted about those missions.

The Afghan president, stinging from a series of civilian casualties in U.S. military operations in recent years, said he doubts that sending more American forces into Afghan villages would tamp down the insurgency, and he has questioned a U.S. plan to deploy 3,500 of its forces in two provinces on Kabul's doorstep next month.

Karzai told Mullen that U.S. troops must take more care during operations in Afghan villages and stop searching Afghan homes. He asked the chairman to investigate allegations that U.S. forces killed three civilians in a raid last week in Khost province, a reflection of increasing concern about civilian casualties. The United States says three militants were killed.

Karzai wants more forces deployed along the Afghan border to combat insurgents infiltrating from Pakistan, where suspected U.S. missile strikes yesterday killed eight people in a region where al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding.

The identities of those killed in the two attacks - the latest in a stepped-up American campaign in the lawless region - were not immediately known.

During the weekend, Mullen said the United States would send an additional 20,000 to 30,000 troops to Afghanistan by summer - the largest number ever given by a top military leader. The increase in force reflects the deteriorating security situation around the country more than seven years after the U.S. invasion.

Ramping up the U.S. contingent will likely take much of the year, as combat brigades and support units gradually move in. The first unit to go will be the Third Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, which will deploy to Afghanistan in the coming weeks in areas that have seen a massive infiltration of militants in the last year.

An 82d Airborne aviation unit will deploy in the spring. That unit is smaller than a ground combat brigade, which normally numbers about 3,500.

After that, a Marine combat unit and the second Army brigade will likely move in by summer. Officials said yesterday that they are still not clear when the fourth combat brigade would deploy - but one estimate is very late in 2009.

President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of ending the war in Iraq and refocusing America's military efforts on the Afghanistan region.

But with Karzai casting doubt on how many U.S. troops should operate in the country, it's not clear whether the two leaders will share a similar vision for the direction of the Afghan effort.

Karzai's office said Mullen told the president the new troops would be sent to dangerous regions with little security, particularly along the Pakistan border, to prevent insurgent infiltration.

Mullen told reporters Saturday that NATO and the United States have "enough forces to be successful in combat, but we haven't had enough forces to hold the territory that we clear."

But Karzai has signaled he is wary of more U.S. forces operating among ordinary Afghans.