Karzai Thanks Americans for Support to Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 14, 2004 Afghan President Hamid Karzai stood before the stained plaque marking the impact site of the jetliner that hit the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, and thanked the American people for their support of his country.
Karzai met with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. The president will meet with other administration officials including President Bush June 15, and is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress.
Karzai said the setting of the news conference reminded him "that we must together the whole mankind work toward the complete defeat of terrorism around the world."
He said terrorists must not be allowed to kill or prevent progress in Afghanistan or to kill people in America. He thanked the American people for their support, and said he is in America "to express to them what we have achieved, our difficulties and our way forward."
The Afghan president said he doesn't think his country's being overshadowed by Iraq. "There was a fear just before operations began in Iraq that Afghanistan might be forgotten, but fortunately for us that did not happen," he said. "The attention of the United States remained on Afghanistan, and we saw there was an increased attention last year and this year."
Karzai pointed to more funding for operations in the country, increased reconstruction aid, more training, and equipment funding for the Afghan police and army.
Rumsfeld praised Karzai's leadership, saying that he has seen improvements each time he has visited Afghanistan. He said under the Taliban, Afghanistan was a police state that banned basic freedoms, treated women in inhumane ways and served as a haven for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. "Today, Afghanistan is a member of the community of free nations," the secretary said. "The government is taking an increasing role in providing its own security."
There are now 20 battalions in the new Afghan National Army and more than 12,500 members of the Afghan National Police. Some 18,000 U.S. service members are in Afghanistan, along with 2,000 soldiers of other coalition countries. More than 5,000 more soldiers under NATO control make up the International Security Assistance Force in the national capital of Kabul.
NATO has promised to expand ISAF outside the capital, a goal of the alliance for some time. Karzai said he hopes that expansion will happen soon.
Rumsfeld said the coalition's provincial reconstruction teams are working with the central and provincial governments to extend the control of the central government.
Construction of the "Ring Road" in Afghanistan is well along, Rumsfeld continued. The section between Kabul and Kandahar opened last year. It cut travel time between Afghanistan's two largest cities by 75 percent. The road will help the country facilitate commerce, enhance security, help attract foreign investment and better unify the country, the secretary said.
Finally, the country has a constitution and will have free elections, which are set for September. "The movement to democracy is always difficult," Rumsfeld said. He said this is especially so in a country that endured Soviet occupation, 23 years of war, five years of Taliban government and seven years of drought.