Clinton vows to support Afghan leadership

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton promised yesterday that America will stand with Afghanistan as it tries to rebuild after a quarter-century of conflict and warned Taliban rebels that they "are fighting a losing battle."

But the New York Democrat also said more troops are needed in the multinational military coalition providing security.

Clinton, who was in Afghanistan along with Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., on a whistle-stop tour to spend Thanksgiving with U.S. troops, said the United States is determined to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

"I am very impressed by the resolve of the Afghan government, President Karzai in particular," Clinton said after a meeting with Karzai at the presidential palace.

She spoke in a room at the palace still pocked by decades of conflict. Two windows behind Clinton had bullet holes in them.

Clinton said Washington is concerned about recent attacks by Taliban and al-Qaida fighters against aid workers, Afghan government employees and soldiers.

Clinton and Reed, who once served as a U.S. Army paratrooper, later sat down for a dinner with about 50 American soldiers at Bagram Air Base, just north of the capital.

Clinton met with soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, which is based at Fort Drum in northern New York.

"I have a lot of respect for her as a woman," said Staff Sgt. Tamecha Moore, 31, from Hempstead, N.Y. "I hope she runs for president."

The two senators, who have criticized the Bush administration's handling of postwar operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, were later traveling to Iraq.

In related developments:

British police arrested a suspected al-Qaida operative and searched his home and a mosque for explosives yesterday.

Britain's top law-enforcement official described the arrest of the 24-year-old Briton of Pakistani descent in Gloucester as "significant." Home Secretary David Blunkett indicated that intelligence agents may have broken up a terror plot in Britain just a week after suicide bombings of British targets in Turkey.

Police are examining possible links between the suspect and Richard Reid, the terrorist convicted of trying to blow up a Paris-to-Miami flight with explosive-packed gym shoes in 2001.

Turkey's justice minister was quoted yesterday as saying Chechens and Turks with links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network helped prepare suicide bombs that killed dozens of people in Istanbul this month.

Cemil Cicek also said militants who bombed the British consulate and an office of the London-based HSBC bank last week had narrowly evaded a pre-emptive attempt to arrest them after they were alerted to a planned police raid.

Saudi Arabia's security forces found a pickup packed with more than a ton of explosives when they raided a militant cell primed to launch a "terrorist operation" in Riyadh, officials said yesterday.

Officials say Tuesday's raid by security forces thwarted an imminent attack during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr.