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Karzai welcomes Obama call to reach out to Taliban

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HEIDI VOGT | March 8, 2009 08:24 AM EST | AP

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KABUL — President Hamid Karzai on Sunday welcomed President Barack Obama's call to identify moderate elements of the Taliban and encourage them to reconcile with the Afghan government.

Obama's call "was good news because this has been the stand of the Afghan government," Karzai told a gymnasium full of Afghan women during a speech to commemorate International Women's Day.

Obama said in an interview with The New York Times published Sunday that there may be opportunities to reach out to moderates in the Taliban, but the situation in Afghanistan is more complicated than the challenges the American military faced in Iraq.

"There may be some comparable opportunities in Afghanistan and in the Pakistani region," Obama said, while cautioning that solutions in Afghanistan will be complicated.

U.S. troops were able to persuade Sunni Muslim insurgents in Iraq to cooperate in some instances because they had been alienated by the tactics of al-Qaida terrorists.

Karzai warned that there are Taliban fighters who are beyond reconciliation _ those who have joined with al-Qaida, for instance. But he said talks should go forward "with those who are afraid to come back to their country, or who feel they have no choice but to stay with the Taliban for various reasons. They are welcome."

Obama cautioned that Afghanistan is a less-governed region than Iraq with a history of fierce independence among tribes, creating a tough set of circumstances for the United States to deal with.

Obama last month ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan to bolster the record 38,000 American forces already in the country. Obama has promised to increase the U.S. focus on Afghanistan and away from Iraq, as the U.S. begins to draw down its forces there.

In the latest violence, a roadside blast killed a NATO service member and wounded two U.S. coalition members in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday, the NATO-led force said. The alliance did not disclose the troops' nationalities or the exact location of the attack, but the majority of troops in eastern Afghanistan are American.

Another roadside blast in central Ghazni province hit a police vehicle, killing three officers and wounding another three, said Ismail Jahangir, the spokesman for the provincial governor.

A joint Afghan-coalition patrol, meanwhile, killed two Afghan police officers late Friday who opened fire on their team in northeastern Kapisa province, the coalition said in a statement Sunday.

The joint patrol, which was on foot, attempted to identify themselves as friendly forces to the police without success, the statement said. "In self-defense, the patrol returned fire killing two individuals," it said.

The string of deaths continues an upward spike in violence that has spread throughout Afghanistan the last three years even as Obama's administration is trying to come up with a new approach to dealing with the Afghan war.

(This version CORRECTS that the blast in Ghazni killed three and wounded three instead of killed six and wounded six.))