Afghan president travels to US to meet Bush

KABUL (AFP) – Afghan President Hamid Karzai headed Sunday for the United States and talks with US counterpart George W. Bush that risk being overshadowed by the Taliban’s detention of 21 South Koreans.

Karzai is due to meet Bush at the US presidential retreat of Camp David in Maryland later Sunday and Monday.

Their talks are likely to focus on Afghanistan’s reconstruction, civilian casualties and the fight against terrorism and narcotics, among other issues, said a statement from Karzai’s office announcing his departure.

The United States led the invasion that drove the hardline Islamic Taliban out of government in late 2001 and is the main backer of Karzai’s government, giving the most support to military efforts to defeat a Taliban insurgency and rebuild.

In a sign of the continuing unrest, the Taliban kidnapped 23 South Koreans on July 19. They shot dead two of them and have threatened to kill more of the group if certain captured fighters are not freed from jail.

South Korea has appealed to Kabul and Washington for help in securing the safe release of the remaining hostages, most of them women.

Afghanistan, backed by the United States, refuses to bow to that demand for fear of encouraging more kidnappings, while Seoul and the hostages’ relatives do not want any military operation to try to free them in case their loved ones end up being killed.

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