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President Obama Praises, Presses Allies’ Efforts to Fight Militants

BY Admin  May 6, 2009 at 2:15 AM EDT

President Barack Obama; file photo

“I’m pleased that these two men, elected leaders of
Afghanistan and Pakistan, fully appreciate the seriousness of the threats that
we face and have reaffirmed their commitment to confronting it,” Mr. Obama
said at the White House, flanked by the other presidents after a day of joint
meetings.

The high-stakes diplomacy had Afghanistan President Hamid
Karzai and Pakistan’s Asif Ali Zardari meeting with U.S. officials separately
and together, first at the State Department and then at the White House.
Looming over the sessions was a bombing on Monday in Afghanistan that officials
there said killed dozens of civilians and for which the Obama administration
apologized.

Listen to President Obama’s remarks after the tri-lateral
meetings:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told Karzai that
the Obama administration “deeply, deeply” regretted the loss of
civilian lives.

The president’s national security adviser, Retired Marine
Corps Gen. James Jones, also said the president told Karzai about the U.S. regrets
in their meeting Wednesday and Karzai was moved by the statement of
condolences.

Jones said the United States will try to determine what
happened in Monday’s bombing and tried to ensure that it doesn’t occur again.

When Mr. Obama went before the cameras, he pledged his
administration would “make every effort to avoid civilian casualties”
in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, where U.S. airstrikes have stoked
anti-American sentiment.

President Obama emphasized the progress he said was achieved
in the joint meetings taking place thousands of miles from the conflicts.

Gathering the three leaders together at one table, along
with lower-level officials from the three countries, “reflects the kind of
concrete cooperation and detail that is going to ultimately make a difference
in improving opportunity and democracy and stability in Pakistan and in
Afghanistan,” Obama said.

The stakes couldn’t be higher, he said.

“We have learned time and again that our security is
shared,” the president said. “It is a lesson that we learned most
painfully on 9/11, and it is a lesson that we will not forget.”

Mr. Obama also told Karzai that he wanted to see
“concrete results” toward stamping out corruption in Afghanistan, Jones,
said.

Earlier Wednesday, Karzai thanked Clinton for “showing
concern and regret” and added that “we hope we can work together to
completely reduce civilian casualties in the struggle against terrorism,”
according to the Associated Press

Fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan has surged in the past
week. In Farah, Afghanistan, the international Red Cross confirmed dozens of
bodies on Wednesday in graves and rubble where Afghan officials alleged U.S.
bombs killed civilians. A former Afghan government official said up to 120
people died in the bombing Monday evening.

Women and children were among dozens of bodies in two
villages targeted by airstrikes, the International Committee of the Red Cross
reported after sending a team to the district. The U.S. military sent a
brigadier general to the region to investigate.

In Pakistan, helicopter gunships and mortar teams pounded
militant strongholds, killing dozens outside emerald mines and in a district
about 60 miles from the capital, the military said, as Taliban reinforcements
poured down from their mountain hideouts.

Since fighting broke out Tuesday, thousands of men, women
and children have fled the Swat region’s main town of Mingora and surrounding
districts, fearing an imminent major military operation. The government said it
believes refugees could reach 500,000.

The Swat Taliban is estimated to have up to 7,000 fighters
against some 15,000 troops who until recent days had been confined to their
barracks under the peace deal.

Obama administration officials say there is no movement to
send U.S. military forces into Pakistan.

The tri-lateral meetings in Washington came as Defense
Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Afghanistan on Wednesday to talk to military
service members as the Pentagon prepares to send thousands more to the front
lines of the fight against Taliban militants.

In his two-day visit to Afghanistan, Gates plans to get a
ground-level view of what U.S. troops need as they continue to push the Taliban
south and try to stop extremists from crossing into the country over the
Pakistan border. It is Gates’ first trip to Afghanistan during Obama’s
administration.