First Lady Laura Bush has flown to Afghanistan for a whirlwind five-hour tour to promote women's rights and education.
Mrs. Bush arrived in Afghanistan Wednesday where she expressed the hope that her visit would help strengthen the bond between the two countries and highlight U.S. efforts to improve local opportunities for women.
While in Kabul, the former teacher announced more than $20 million in grants for educational programs, with nearly $18 million to help fund the new American University of Afghanistan in Kabul.
Mrs. Bush also met Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the country's first democratically elected leader.
Mrs. Bush said the broader message behind her visit was one of solidarity with Afghan women.
|Laura Bush, center, meets with reporters on board her plane en route to Kabul, Afghanistan|
"The United States Government is wholeheartedly committed to the full participation of women in all aspects of Afghan society," the first lady said.
Under the deposed Taleban regime girls were barred from studying in schools and women were prevented from holding jobs.
Three years on, Afghanistan remains a daunting environment for young women. According to the United Nations, the literacy rate for women is just 14 percent and in rural areas girls are still a rare sight inside classrooms.
Mrs. Bush said Wednesday she hopes the progress made so far will continue.
"I've watched especially with great pride as courageous women across your country have taken leadership roles as students, teachers, judges doctors, business and community leaders, ministers and governor," she said.
It is Mrs. Bush's first trip to the region. The First Lady said she had hoped to visit before, but security concerns kept her away.
Wednesday's trip was kept secret until just before Mrs. Bush left Washington Tuesday night.
Insurgent attacks still plague Afghanistan. Just hours before Mrs. Bush arrived a car bomb in the eastern city of Jalalabad killed one person and injured another. Taleban guerillas claimed responsibility.
Mrs. Bush was scheduled to join U.S. forces for dinner Wednesday evening before returning to the United States.