Pelosi speaks about Afghan security ahead of her departure

Kabul, Afghanistan (AP)- US officials visiting the Afghan capital on Sunday said that security would be one of the main issues to be discussed as Afghan President Hamid Karzai begins meetings in Washington on Monday.

Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, addressed reporters in Kabul, alongside other members of the visiting Congressional delegation, and underlined the US' continued commitment to the Afghan mission. "The mission here is one that is important to the national security, not only of the United States and of Afghanistan, but of the region and therefore of the world," she said. "It is a very important mission and it must succeed." Her comments came as violence continued across the country as an insurgency led by Taliban militants works to destabilize the Karzai government and its international supporters.

Karzai's trip comes after months of rocky relations with the Obama administration. On Sunday, Pelosi played down the strains and said Karzai would be received on his forthcoming visit to Washington with "great dignity, great friendship and great candour." In an attempt to steal the spotlight from Karzai's trip to Washington, the Taliban threatened to launch a series of attacks across Afghanistan, a claim Defence Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak quickly dismissed as insurgent propaganda.

The Taliban said their spring offensive, targeting Afghan and NATO military and staff plus foreign contractors, would begin on Monday. Wardak and nine other members of the Afghan Cabinet are accompanying Karzai to the United States. The trip comes as 30-thousand US troops, ordered by Obama, were gradually being deployed to the country, to reinforce the existing force.

About 4,500 have deployed, with another 18-thousand due to arrive by late spring and the rest by early autumn. The military build-up is aimed at routing the Taliban from their strongholds , especially in the south, and bolstering security needed to start development projects and offer public services, an effort to drain support for the Taliban and throw it to Karzai's government.

Thousands of US, NATO and Afghan forces just finished a major offensive to oust the Taliban from central Helmand province in the south. They now are ramping up pressure on the Taliban's birthplace of Kandahar province next door. The Taliban are fighting back with attacks on contractors and government officials.

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