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IN THE NEWS - Leaders of Afghanistan, Pakistan Meet With Obama in Washington

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

President Obama, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met Wednesday at the White House. Mister Obama described the day as "extraordinarily productive." He said the three nations are joined by a common goal to "defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, and Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari with President Obama
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, left, and Pakistan's Asif Ali Zardari with President Obama

BARACK OBAMA: "I am pleased that these two men, elected leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan, fully appreciate the seriousness of the threat that we face and have reaffirmed their commitment to confronting it."

He also told President Karzai that the United States will make every effort to avoid harming civilians as it helps the Afghan government. But on Friday President Karzai, appearing on CNN television, demanded that American airstrikes end. He said an Afghan delegation had confirmed that more than one hundred civilians died earlier this week because of airstrikes in the western province of Farah.

American officials have expressed regret for the incident. But they say about fifty people were killed, many of them militants. And they have suggested that Taliban fighters were responsible for killing some civilians. Mister Karzai disputed that.

The Afghan and Pakistani leaders brought big delegations to Washington for individual and joint meetings with American officials. President Karzai said he hopes to reduce years of tension with Pakistan. President Zardari said he shares a desire to support democracy and fight terrorism.

Taliban and al-Qaida forces have made recent gains in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

On Friday American Defense Secretary Robert Gates completed a visit to Afghanistan. The United States is preparing for an increase of more than twenty thousand troops there in the coming months. American officials say it will take at least two years for what one official called a meaningful measure of progress toward long-term stability.

Pakistan has battled Taliban militants in its northwest tribal areas for years. But the fighting is now moving closer to population centers. Government attempts to make peace deals with the militants have failed to stop the fighting.

The United Nations says hundreds of thousands of people are being displaced by the latest fighting in Swat and other parts of North West Frontier province. They join another half million displaced Pakistanis who have fled their homes since August. Aid groups are warning of a humanitarian crisis.

In a speech on Thursday, Pakistan's Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani called on the nation to unite against the Taliban.

The Obama administration is seeking four hundred million dollars in immediate assistance from Congress to help Pakistan fight the insurgency within its borders.

Earlier this week, two American senators proposed legislation for three times as much non-military aid as Pakistan now receives. The measure calls for one and a half billion dollars a year for five years. The money would be used to build schools, roads and medical clinics. President Obama supports the measure. The House of Representatives is considering its own version of the legislation.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Mario Ritter.

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