“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
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.