updated 5/10/2009 2:55:49 PM ET 2009-05-10T18:55:49

In a blunt rebuff of the Afghan president, President Barack Obama's national security adviser said Sunday the United States would not end the airstrikes in Afghanistan that have reportedly killed hundreds of civilians in the course war.

Most recently, Hamid Karzai said U.S. bombing and air strikes western Afghanistan's Farah province may have killed as many as 130 civilians.

Retired Gen. James Jones said American forces would continue to make military decisions based on the best intelligence available and would not rule out any action because "we can't fight with one hand tied behind our back."

Karzai has been highly critical of U.S. military missions that have killed civilians and cast a deep cloud of suspicion over the nearly eight-year-old American mission in the landlocked and deeply backward South Asian nation. After dislodging the brutal Taliban regime in late 2001, its leadership and Osama bin Laden and much of his al-Qaida structure fled across the forbidding mountains into Pakistan.

Violence has soared
But as the U.S. war in Afghanistan dragged on, the Taliban has retaken control over as much as 40 percent of Afghanistan and violence has soared, pushing deep into Pakistan. Bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri remain at large and are believed hiding in the mountains on the Pakistan side of the border.

Jones acknowledge the difficulty facing U.S. troops who are fighting a Taliban enemy that has no compunction about using civilians as human shields.

"We have to be careful to make sure that we don't unnecessarily wound or kill innocent civilians," Jones said.

Gen. David Petraeus, chief of the U.S. Central Command, was less direct when asked about the Karzai demand, but gave no indication the U.S. would comply.

"We have to take a look at this, make sure that our commanders understand the — you know, the subtleties of the situation, the complexity of it, and do the right thing," the Central Command chief said. "So it's a difficult problem, but it's not unsolvable."

As part of his new regional strategy, Obama and top administration officials met in Washington last week with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and Karzai for unprecedented three-way talks to advance Washington's efforts to wipe out the Taliban and al-Qaida operations and safe havens along their common border.

'True threat' to Pakistan
Obama's new strategy, unveiled March 27, links American success in defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan with stability in neighboring Pakistan, where the militant Islamic organization has been operating without sustained opposition from the country's large military. It is mainly deployed along the country's eastern border with India. Those countries have fought three wars since independence from Britain.

Petraeus said the Taliban represented a "true threat" to Pakistan's existence, but he joined Obama in declaring his confidence in the security of Islamabad's nuclear arsenal. Zardari also issued assurances in an interview broadcast Sunday on NBC that Pakistan's nuclear weapons were safe.

As Zardari's military continued its first major offensive in the northwest of the country, Petraeus said he believed that Taliban brutality in the largely lawless region had "galvanized" the country, including its military. The offensive opened last week while Zardari was in Washington for talks with Obama.

The U.S. has repeatedly expressed frustration with the Pakistan government for its hesitancy in going after the Taliban militants, who at one point in the past two weeks had driven to within 60 miles (100 kilometers) of Islamabad, the capital.

Pakistan army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said 400 to 500 militants had been killed since the operation was launched.

Overcoming the 'trust deficit'
Petraeus, meanwhile, said he believed bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, were still in charge of al-Qaida.

Jones, however, said he wasn't sure if bin Laden was still alive. "The truth is, I don't think anybody knows."

And Zardari offered a third opinion: "I've said before that he — I don't think he's alive," Zardari said. "They (American intelligence officials ) haven't heard of him since seven years."

Petraeus said the United States was now working hard to overcome "the trust deficit" in Pakistan, declaring that it "stems back to us dropping Pakistan in the wake of the expulsion of the Soviets from Afghanistan. It lasted for years, and it will take months and years to re-establish the kind of trust and bonds and partnership that are necessary to move forward."

The U.S. and Western allies played a heavy behind the scenes role in arming and financing what became the core of the Taliban and, in some cases, al-Qaida in their 10-year-long fight against the Soviet occupation in the 1980s.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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