WASHINGTON – Straying from the Bush administration script, Afghanistan’s president said Sunday the hunt for Osama bin Laden has gone nowhere despite aggressive U.S. efforts to capture the Sept. 11 mastermind.
“We are not closer, we are not further away … we are where we were a few years ago,” Hamid Karzai told CNN’s “Late Edition.”
Asked about Karzai’s downbeat assessment, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told CNN, “We’re working the problem. … We are dedicating significant resources to trying to find him.”
The Afghan leader, who was in Washington on Sunday to meet with President Bush, said he didn’t know where bin Laden was but was certain he wasn’t in Afghanistan. U.S. and Pakistani officials have long said the terrorist is hiding in tribal areas of Pakistan.
To the chagrin of Bush officials, he has evaded an intense manhunt by U.S. Special Forces and the Pakistani Army.
Karzai’s two-day visit to Camp David comes as he faces competing troubles at home – a hostage crisis, civilian killings, drug trafficking and a resurgent Taliban.
All of those matters are likely to be discussed with Bush. The U.S. president is looking to bolster Karzai but also to prod his government to exert and extend its authority.
Despite its progress since U.S.-led forces toppled the militant Taliban regime in 2001, Afghanistan still is dominated by poverty and lawlessness. Stability has been hindered by the lack of government order, particularly in the southern part of the country.
“The security situation in Afghanistan over the past two years has definitely deteriorated,” Karzai said in the CNN interview. “There is no doubt about that.”