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U.S. President Barack Obama has reaffirmed U.S. commitment to a strong and stable Afghanistan and says tensions between the two governments have been "overstated."
Mr. Obama discussed the "deepening partnership" with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai at the White House Wednesday. The talks focused on fighting al-Qaida and other extremist groups, building up Afghan forces, and strengthening Afghan governance, including countering corruption.
During a press briefing following talks, Mr. Obama noted progress in Afghanistan, including a reversal in the momentum of the Taliban insurgency, but he said challenges remain.
The U.S. president vowed to reduce civilian casualties by coalition forces, a key concern of the Afghan leader. Mr. Obama said he was "ultimately accountable" for Afghan civilian deaths.
President Karzai conveyed his gratitude for U.S. support in Afghanistan, including the sacrifices of U.S. troops fighting the insurgency. He noted that U.S.-Afghanistan ties are the strongest in a decade and that any tensions between the two nations in recent months reflect a deep and strong relationship.
The two leaders also discussed Afghan efforts to reintegrate lower-level Taliban soldiers and officers into national security forces. President Obama pledged support for reconciliation efforts, but said Taliban members must be willing to renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution.
President Obama also said he was confident that the United States would meet its goal of beginning to withdraw U.S. forces in July of 2011. But he added that the U.S. will remain committed to Afghanistan's security and development long into the future.
When asked about Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan, and its efforts to fight militancy, Mr. Obama told reporters he has seen a growing recognition among Pakistan's leaders that they have a "cancer in their midst."