CAMP DAVID —
After a day of high-level discussions with Afghanistan’s leaders, top U.S. officials praised progress on the two countries' "revitalized partnership," announcing plans for several measures including a new development partnership as well as a goal to seek congressional funding to extend financial support for Afghanistan's military.
"Today’s productive meetings underscore both the enduring nature of the U.S.-Afghan friendship and the extent to which we have grown even closer after 14 years of shared sacrifice," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a news conference in a converted airplane hangar at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.
The talks with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, plus U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, were aimed at improving bilateral relations that have been strained by nearly 14 years of war and America's often-testy relations with the former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai.
Ghani and Abdullah joined Kerry at the news conference, along with Carter, who cited the countries' "revitalized partnership."
As evidence, Kerry introduced a new development partnership, with the U.S. providing up to $800 million to Afghanistan in an incentive-based program based on reforms and policy development. Funds would be disbursed through the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. Kerry said the measure, aligned with the unity government's reform agenda, recognizes "a new era of cooperation."
That was among the "deliverables” from today’s talks at Camp David and, earlier, at the Pentagon.
Carter also said the U.S. Defense Department intends to seek congressional funding for Afghan forces to sustain 352,000 personnel through fiscal year 2017. He said Afghan and coalition military commanders have recommended this force size to solidify security gains. He also announced the reinstatement of a U.S.-Afghan security consultative forum.
Roughly 9,800 American troops remain stationed in Afghanistan to advise and train Afghan troops after the last U.S. combat forces withdrew late last year. Obama has announced plans to cut the troop level to 5,500 by year's end and even less by the time he leaves office in early 2017.The pace of withdrawal is a key element of the two countries' discussions.
Ghani, asked by VOA about what he sees as adequate U.S. troop strength, declined to give a number.
"What we have emphasized and agreed is that we are strategic partners," he said at the briefing. Deferring to "the judgments of experts" including Pentagon personnel, he added, "Numbers are a means, they are not an ending of themselves."
Neither Kerry nor Carter would comment on a slowed timeline for the U.S. drawdown, saying this would be discussed Tuesday, when Ghani and Abdullah are scheduled to meet with President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
Watch video report from VOA's Mary Alice Salinas:
Both Ghani and Abdullah repeatedly thanked the U.S. for its continued support and vowed to work on strengthening their governments.
Ghani also is expected to address a joint meeting of Congress on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Afghan leaders head to New York for meetings with United Nations officials.
Earlier Monday at the Pentagon, Ghani said that Afghanistan's "partnership with the United States is foundational" and thanked the U.S. for giving his country "freedom and hope."
"We are delighted to have the opportunity to discuss a changing context and to be able to affirm a partnership that is based on values, respect for democratic process, electoral reforms, comprehensive reforms of the economy, governance, and related issues," he said.
The new Afghan leader vowed to defeat Taliban insurgents seeking to overthrow his fledgling government in fighting that continues more than 13 years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to attack al-Qaida militants after their 2001 terrorist assault on the U.S.
"Terrorism is a threat, it's evil," Ghani said as he greeted Carter at the Pentagon. "But we the people of Afghanistan are willing to speak truth to terror by saying, 'No. You will never overwhelm us. You will never subdue us. We are going to overcome.' And in this endeavor our partnership with the United States is foundational because we will be the first line of defense for freedom globally."
Carter stressed the importance of defeating terrorists in the southeast Asian nation to prevent future attacks against the United States.
“Because just beyond these walls stands a memorial honoring all those who perished when the Pentagon was attacked on that bright, fateful day in 2001,” Carter told the crowd.
More than military gains
Ghani focused on more than just the fighting and military training of the U.S. forces, thanking the U.S. military members for building schools, dams and roads that have helped the nation make social and economic improvements.
A touching moment came when Ghani directly addressed some individual members of the crowd.
He told Reese Larson, the nine-year-old daughter of Lieutenant Lonn Larson who is currently serving in Afghanistan, to remember that her father is there to make a difference. He also brought her greetings for the 3 million Afghan girls who attend school in Afghanistan today.
“Fourteen years ago, there were exactly none, so each one of them wants to entertain the hopes that you do, and your dad is making this possible,” Ghani told her.
The Afghan president even thanked American taxpayers for the funding to support his country and vowed not to “be a burden.”
"We do not now ask what the United States can do for us, Ghani said, echoing the words of President John F. Kennedy in his famous 1961 inaugural address. " We want to say what Afghanistan can do for itself and for the world."
WATCH: VOA Interview with Ashraf Ghani