KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai left for Washington Sunday on a four-day visit, his office said, aiming to mend ties after a damaging row over his criticism of foreign partners.
Karzai will meet President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He is accompanied by more than a dozen government ministers, his office said in a statement.
The visit is Karzai's first since he made a string of outspoken criticisms alleging that foreign nations had orchestrated fraud in the elections that returned him to power last year, comments that infuriated Washington.
With the United States pouring thousands more troops into Afghanistan ahead of a decisive operation in Kandahar -- the Taliban's heartland -- both sides have stressed the importance of the White House meeting on Wednesday. A Karzai spokesman last week described it as "extremely important".
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Obama had asked his security team to treat Karzai with more public respect following the row.
"There has been a rough patch," the paper quoted a senior US administration official as saying.
"Frankly, some of what Karzai said needed to be responded to. But the bottom line is that there has been an improvement since then in the atmospherics and in the substance of our dealings with President Karzai and his team."
Nonetheless the meeting is likely to see renewed US pressure on the embattled leader to wipe out corruption.
US administration officials have sent mixed signals about Karzai's legitimacy and his value to the US-led counter-insurgency campaign.
Karzai's standing in the West has fallen dramatically since he took power following the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, but unity is seen as crucial if US-led efforts in ending a nine-year Taliban insurgency are to succeed.
Hours before his departure, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it had lost a soldier fighting insurgents in southern Afghanistan.
"An ISAF servicemember died following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan today," the force said in a statement, without specifying the nationality of the casualty or the location of the incident.
There are about 130,000 international troops operating under ISAF, more than two third of them US nationals.
On Saturday US and Afghan forces killed 10 Taliban militants in a raid in the western province of Herat after the insurgents beheaded four guards working for the US military, the Afghan army said Sunday.
US and Afghan soldiers engaged the insurgents for a full day in the district of Shindand, the commander of Afghan army commando forces in western Afghanistan told AFP.
"We together with US Marines launched an operation against insurgents as a result of which 10 Taliban were killed," said Zainudin Sharifi.
ISAF has a base in Shindand, part of the relatively peaceful province of Herat, which shares a long border with Iran.