NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday condemned the killing of the head of Afghanistan's High Peace Council, former President Burhanuddin Rabbani, and vowed it would not stop the United States from pressing on with its mission there.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, at the start of talks with Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, said Rabbani's death "will not deter us" from continuing the quest for peace.
Rabbani, who had been tasked with trying to negotiate a political end to the war with Taliban insurgents, was killed at his home on Tuesday.
The assassination raised new questions about the ability of fledgling Afghan security forces to protect even the most prominent politicians as U.S.-led forces begin a transition to Afghan security control.
Karzai, who was meeting Obama for the first time since the U.S. president announced a troop drawdown plan earlier this year, planned to cut short his New York visit to return home.
"It is a tragic loss," Obama said with Karzai at his side. "We both believe that despite this incident, we will not be deterred from creating a path whereby Afghans can live in freedom, safety and security and prosperity ....
"It is going to be important to continue the efforts to bring all of the elements in Afghanistan society together to end the senseless cycle of violence," he said.
Karzai thanked Obama for his condolences on the "martyrdom of ... an Afghan patriot who as we see has sacrificed his life for the sake of Afghanistan and the peace of our country."
"This will not deter us from continuing the path that we have," he said.
Rabbani, a former leader of a powerful mujahideen party during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, was chosen last October by Karzai to head the High Peace Council.
His plan included offering amnesty and jobs to Taliban foot soldiers and asylum in third countries to leaders.
The assassination comes after a series of suicide bombings and other major attacks believed to be the work of the Haqqani network, a Taliban-allied insurgent faction based along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
(Reporting by Laura MacInnis, writing by Matt Spetalnick, editing by Will Dunham and Philip Barbara)