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Wolfowitz Visits Afghanistan, Germany, Belgium

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2003 – Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz arrived in Afghanistan Jan. 14 after a 14-hour flight aboard an Air Force C-17 transport plane from Andrews Air Force Base, Md.

Army Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, commander of Combined Joint Task Force 180, welcomed the deputy to the Afghan base, where Wolfowitz meets today with U.S. and coalition troops and military officials and will tour a road construction site.

The deputy is also slated to travel to the capital city of Kabul to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Defense Minister Fahim Khan and other Afghan leaders.

Along with the meetings, Wolfowitz was scheduled to observe a live-fire exercise at the Afghan national army training range and to visit the Rabia Balki Women's Hospital.

From Afghanistan, he goes to Stuttgart, Germany, for the Jan. 16 change of command ceremony for Marine Gen. James Jones at U.S. European Command. He then heads to Mons, Belgium, for Jones' Jan. 17 change of command ceremony at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. Jones, the former U.S. Marine Corps commandant, will take the reins of the two commands at the ceremonies.

A senior Bush administration official told reporters traveling with Wolfowitz that the day-long visit to Afghanistan would give the deputy a chance to assess military operations in Afghanistan and the progress made there to date.

People need to understand that the country has been devastated by more than 20 years of invasions and war, the official noted. From that perspective, he said, the improvements made over the past 18 months have been nothing short of miraculous.

U.S. and coalition operations in Afghanistan are focused on providing military security that will enable economic reconstruction, the official said. As stability is restored and the Afghan government develops the ability to deliver the services people need, its authority will increase, he said.

Building an indigenous defense team is an important part establishing security in Afghanistan, the official added. He said Wolfowitz was particularly interested in seeing how Afghan national army training is coming along and in getting firsthand reports on its troops' first deployment.

During that deployment, an Afghan company went on patrol with a small U.S. team to the town of Orgun-e in Paktia Province. The official said the local population initially thought the Afghan soldiers were Americans in Afghan uniforms because they were so disciplined and well behaved and because they dealt comfortably with local police. U.S. defense officials view the deployment as a positive start for the fledgling national army.

When Wolfowitz last traveled to Afghanistan in July, the official said, Afghan soldiers were just beginning their training. He expected that the deputy's meeting with the Afghan defense minister would focus on how to accelerate recruiting and equipping the Afghan national army.

While in Kabul, Wolfowitz is also scheduled to visit the International Security Assistance Force, another part of the Afghan security picture. Troop visits and equipment inspections of the Dutch, German, Spanish and Turkish contingents are on his agenda. Establishing the international force was crucial to maintaining the neutrality of the capital, the official said.

Wolfowitz is scheduled to return to Washington Jan. 17.

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