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Bush vows to win Afghan war and bring Al Qaeda honchos 'to justice'

BY James Gordon Meek

New York Daily News


WASHINGTON - President Bush tried to convince Americans yesterday that the war in Afghanistan won't be lost on his watch, even as that country's president pressed him for more help amid rising violence.

Bush also dodged the question of whether he'll seek Pakistan's permission to nail Osama Bin Laden in that country.

If there is actionable intelligence on Bin Laden's whereabouts, "we will be able to bring top Al Qaeda to justice," he said, choosing his words carefully. He said the U.S. and Pakistan are in "constant communications."

Senate Democrats slammed Bush for having "dropped the ball on the real front in the war on terror" in Afghanistan.

The White House countered with a fact sheet tallying names of top Al Qaeda leaders killed or sent to Guantanamo Bay. Speaking at Camp David with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at his side, Bush said the Taliban's anticipated spring offensive had fizzled.

"There was a spring offensive, all right - it was conducted by U.S., NATO and, equally importantly, Afghan troops," Bush said.

Karzai suggested that the fight is far from over.

"Our enemy is still there - defeated, but still hiding in the mountains," he said.

Counterterror sources have told the Daily News that Al Qaeda-led militants waged a minioffensive this year. The Taliban in the south turned more to suicide bombings and suffered terrible losses in some of the worst combat of the six-year war, which left 130 coalition troops dead.

Bush suggested the coalition offensive was enabled by the U.S. shifting 24,000 troops east to chase border intruders. He also bowed to Karzai's wish that he emphasize "the Afghan Army is in the fight."

As U.S. military operations became more robust, air strikes have killed a record number of civilians - a sensitive issue Karzai pressed Bush on.

"[Karzai] made a very appealing case for how, through these types of operations, we lose the support of the population, which is really needed to win this war," Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad told The News after yesterday's summit. "There's no disagreement."

Karzai said he was "very happy" with Bush's response to the civilian deaths, but agreed that the "heartless" enemy uses civilians as human shields without "any feeling for young children, for babies, for teenagers."


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