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Rumsfeld, Karzai Note Progress in Afghanistan

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 4, 2003 – U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld today praised the "truly remarkable" progress Afghanistan's government has made in the two years since the country's liberation, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he expects his country's condition to continue improving in the months and years to come.

The pair met here today to discuss Afghanistan's progress and future, and they spoke to reporters at a joint press conference afterward.

"Freedom and opportunity are obviously and visibly taking root," Rumsfeld said. Noting what he called the "impressive" work of the British Provincial Reconstruction Team he visited in Mazar-E-Sharif earlier in the day, Rumsfeld said NATO actively is considering taking on a larger and similar role in Afghanistan outside of Kabul. This notion, he pointed out, received a great deal of discussion at the alliance's defense ministers conference Dec. 1-2 in Brussels, Belgium.

The secretary said that while no specifics or timetable have been developed along those lines, the "enormous" step NATO took in establishing the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan the alliance's first venture outside its treaty area should be seen as important. He also provided assurances that as a NATO member, the United States will continue to be involved in Afghanistan even if the alliance eventually takes on the reconstruction and peacekeeping mission.

Karzai pledged his government would continue to empower the Afghan people on their path to freedom. He and Rumsfeld both expressed the view that any remaining Taliban fighters would not be able to stop the continued conduct of free elections.

Karzai said three provincial elections were currently being held, and 20 others were complete. "With the determination that we have," the president said, "we will do well."

The Afghan president said his government has continued to improve its ability to provide services to the country's people. "I'm sure that six months from now, a year from now, Afghanistan will be better served by the government, better ministered by the country, and more secure."

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