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Western reconstruction teams like plumbers: Karzai

Karzai in talks with US on permanent Afghan bases
Kabul (AFP) Feb 8, 2011 - Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that he was in talks with the United States about the possible establishment of permanent US military bases in his war-ravaged country. "From the statements made by US officials, US senators to the media and from what they have told us, yes, they have this desire," he said. "This is an issue that we're in talks with them about." But Karzai insisted that Afghanistan would have the final say on whether such bases would be allowed.

In January, influential US senator Lindsey Graham reportedly suggested permanent US bases in Afghanistan. At that time, Karzai's spokesman Waheed Omer said the issue had not been discussed with the United States. The US embassy in Kabul referred media queries on the issue to the US-led NATO military in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which was not immediately available for comment. There are around 140,000 international troops, around two-thirds of them from the United States, fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. Afghan forces are due to take responsibility for security from 2014, allowing international troops to pull back.
by Staff Writers
Kabul (AFP) Feb 8, 2011
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday compared Western reconstruction teams in his country to "plumbers" who were no longer needed and said they should leave.

Small units of soldiers and civilians -- known as provincial reconstruction teams or PRTs -- help local government in many parts of Afghanistan by working in areas like education, health and infrastructure.

Karzai's comments, his latest outspoken swipe at Western allies of his government, came during a press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul.

"A PRT is like a plumber. At home, when a water pipe bursts you call a plumber to fix it. Once he has fixed the pipe, the plumber I think won't be staying there for ever, will he?" Karzai said, to laughter from reporters.

He added that PRTs were "like plumbers who came to help us, fix our pipe... and now they must leave."

Karzai said the units, which are thought to have spent hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid on small-scale reconstruction projects since 2002, were hampering Afghanistan's efforts to improve governance for itself.

The president frequently rails against what he says is Western interference in the affairs of Afghanistan.

Most recently, he said "foreign hands" influenced his decision to inaugurate parliament, after having called for a delay to allow time for what were seen as politically-influenced investigations into election irregularities.

US-led Afghan and international troops are battling a Taliban insurgency now in its 10th year since the 2001 US-led invasion toppled their hardline regime from power and implanted a Western-backed administration.

earlier related report
Lithuania could hand over province to Afghans in 2012
Vilnius, Lithuania (AFP) Feb 8, 2011 - The Lithuanian military could hand over the central Afghan province of Ghor to local forces by the end of 2012, Defence Minister Rasa Jukneviciene said Tuesday.

"We're moving towards a situation where we'll be able to hand over responsibility for security in Ghor province to the Afghans at the end of 2012," Jukneviciene told Lithuanian public radio.

Since 2005, a Lithuanian force of some 150 has been at the helm of what is known in NATO jargon as a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Ghor.

"We'll be able to withdraw at least part of our troops after completing the task we were supposed to do," said Jukneviciene.

Defence ministry spokeswoman Danguole Bickauskiene cautioned that Jukneviciene was not referring to an outright pull-out from Afghanistan.

"This is only about withdrawing the soldiers from Ghor province," Bickauskiene told AFP.

"What we have in mind is handing over the management of Ghor to local authorities. To do that, we're involved in training police officers there," she added.

On Tuesday, Lithuania also sent an eight-member team to train Afghan army helicopter pilots.

Ex-Soviet Lithuania, a nation of 3.2 million which joined NATO in 2004, first sent troops to Afghanistan in 2002 after the US-led overthrow of the Taliban regime there.

The Lithuanian parliament has extended the troops' mandate several times, most recently until the end of 2013.

One Lithuanian soldier has died while serving with the Afghanistan mission, which is under the auspices of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force there.

There are around 140,000 international troops, two-thirds of them from the United States, in Afghanistan fighting the militant Islamist Taliban.

Foreign troops are due to start a limited, conditions-based withdrawal from July, and Afghan forces are scheduled to take over responsibility for security in 2014.

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