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Karzai: Additional U.S. Troops ‘Seven Years Too Late’

March 19, 2009 at 6:40 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, a Newsmaker interview with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Margaret Warner interviewed him this morning in his office in Kabul.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. President, thank you for having us. Let me start about the new American forces that are coming here, 17,000 troops. Do you welcome them? And did you give them your approval?

HAMID KARZAI, president, Afghanistan: In 2002, when we began our government — helped by the United States and the rest of the world, after our liberation from terrorism, in the very room in which we are sitting, down there, I used to receive literally hundreds of delegations, from 10 to 20 to 100 to whatever number that this room could accommodate, from all over the country.

And all of them said, “President, ask for more ISAF troops. Send them to our villages; send them to our towns; provide us protection.” We kept requesting. It didn’t happen.

I wish these troops have arrived at that time. They’re seven years too late. Even then, even then for them to come and provide better security to the Afghan people, protect the borders, prevent the crossing of terrorists into Afghanistan, they’re welcome to do that.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think 17,000 is enough to reverse the tide we’ve seen in the last couple of years in which the Taliban is exercising more control over the countryside and major highways?

HAMID KARZAI: The Taliban are — the number of the Taliban are not the problem. That is not our problem. It’s the bombs. It’s the terrorism. It’s the killing of the influential, the elderly, the teachers, the community leaders that is the problem.

The presence of these troops in Afghanistan should provide a protection to the Afghan people by stopping the entry of terrorists into Afghanistan and by going after their hideouts and their sanctuaries, if there are any in Afghanistan.

So, in a sense, their presence will provide more of a psychological strength than the physical strength required. That actually will come by building the Afghan forces and by hitting them in their sanctuaries and training grounds.