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Rumsfeld Meets With Afghan President, Reaffirms U.S. Commitment

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 27, 2004 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld reaffirmed the U.S. and coalition commitment to helping Afghanistan's people rebuild their nation under President Hamid Karzai's leadership.

Speaking at a joint news conference with Karzai after meeting at the presidential palace here Feb. 26, Rumsfeld said NATO partners will play an increasing role in the effort.

"Last month, I was in Munich and met with the NATO ministers of defense," Rumsfeld said, "and there is a great deal of support in the NATO alliance for continuing to assist Afghanistan in its security area, and increasingly so over the coming months and, I suspect, years."

Today's visit was Rumsfeld's sixth to Afghanistan in the last two years. Karzai told reporters that as in past meetings with the secretary, he received assurances "that America would stay with Afghanistan until Afghanistan is firmly, firmly on its own feet" in its ability to defend itself, fight terrorism and secure its borders.

Rumsfeld cited the Afghan people's approval of a new constitution as an important step in the country's progress. It's equally important, he added, that the world was able to see the debate, discussion, free exchange of views and compromises that led to a constitution that protects the rights of all Afghan citizens, including women.

With preparations under way for direct presidential elections, possibly this year, Rumsfeld said the country has made a "remarkable transformation" in just two and a half years since the defeat of the Taliban regime. "The free world has a stake in Afghanistan's success," the secretary said. "This country has gone in a short period from a haven for terrorists to a coalition ally in the war against terrorism.

"Freedom is clearly taking root in this country," he continued, "and Afghanistan is on a path to become a model for freedom and moderation in the Muslim world."

Earlier in the day, Rumsfeld visited the provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar, one of 12 operating throughout Afghanistan. Plans call for up to six more teams. They do whatever is needed to return a normal standard of living to the Afghan people, aided by a funding program that gives local commanders great latitude in identifying priorities for construction, refurbishment or infrastructure improvements and procuring the money it takes to get the projects done.

PRTs also help to extend the influence of the central Afghan government "in a positive and constructive way," Rumsfeld said, by energizing the provincial governments. The regional strategy, he added, has Afghan and coalition forces conducting joint operations against terrorists and immediately following up with focused reconstruction assistance.

The Afghan president expressed hope and confidence that progress will continue. "We cherish the relationship that we have established with the United States and with the secretary of defense, Mr. Rumsfeld, in securing a better future for our people," Karzai said.

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