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US, Afghan Presidents Discuss Reconstruction Effort

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U.S. President George Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai met at the White House to talk about improving security in Afghanistan and expanding the Afghan army. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

At what is likely to be their last White House meeting, President Bush praised President Karzai's service to his country, saying he admires the Afghan leader's determination to succeed.

"I want to let you know that the United States is committed to the people of Afghanistan. We will stand by your side and do the hard work necessary to achieve our objective. And our objective is for you to become a thriving democracy and to deny al-Qaida and other extremists a safe haven or a base from which to launch their murderous attacks," he said.

Al-Qaida terrorists responsible for the September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington were backed by what was then the Taleban-led government in Afghanistan. U.S. forces toppled that government in 2002.

U.S. troops make up the bulk of the NATO mission in Afghanistan fighting Taleban militia, some of whom U.S. military officials say are based across the border in Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Mr. Bush announced that a Marine battalion scheduled to go to Iraq in November will instead be sent to Afghanistan. That battalion will be followed in January by an Army combat brigade.

Before their Oval Office talks, President Bush and President Karzai had a video conference with Afghan governors and members of U.S. provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan. Mr. Bush said those teams are a central part of a counter-insurgency strategy that combines economic development, education, and security to help President Karzai's young democracy thrive.                 

"No question it's difficult. But if you listen to the people who are actually on the ground working with the citizens of Afghanistan on matters such as agriculture or education or infrastructure, you will understand why I said that there is progress and promise and hope," said Mr. Bush.               

There have been difficulties between the Bush administration and the Karzai government, chiefly resulting from public anger over the deaths of Afghan civilians killed by U.S. troops targeting terrorists.

President Karzai thanked President Bush for his friendship, his support, and his patience.
                     
"I have yelled at times. I have been angry at times. But you have always been smiling and generous. And that is so nice of you," he said.                   

President Karzai says Afghanistan has made more progress in the last six years that it would have made in 50 or 60 years under the Taleban. He says infant mortality is down and national reserves of $180 million in 2002 now total more than $3 billion.

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