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Afghan President Asks for Continued Help for Reconstruction - 2003-02-26

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai is urging the United States not to abandon his country if there is a U.S.-led war against Iraq.

In a rare appearance by a foreign leader before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, President Karzai appealed to the United States to stay the course in Afghanistan to prevent terrorists from regrouping there.

"We need to finish the job. Afghanistan is not yet out of the woods, we have to stay with it and continue to support it," Mr. Karzai said.

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Delaware Senator Joe Biden, expressed concern the Bush administration appears to be losing interest in Afghanistan as it turns its attention to possible war in Iraq and nuclear tensions over North Korea.

"We are already seeing Afghanistan drop from the radar screen," Mr. Biden said. "What level of commitment will the administration display once Afghanistan has to line up behind Iraq, North Korea and whatever comes next?"

But Mr. Karzai said President Bush, with whom he will meet Thursday, assured him in a phone call last month that Afghanistan would not be forgotten if the United States became engaged in other regions of the world.

Nearly a year and a half after U.S.-led military action against al-Qaida terrorist targets and the ruling Taleban in Afghanistan, renewed clashes between U.S. troops and remnants of al-Qaida have prompted new concerns about the security situation in the country.

Mr. Karzai acknowledged that more effort must be made to prevent terrorists from crossing into his country from Pakistan. He says Afghanistan is getting cooperation from Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

"The only area where we have to concentrate is preventing radical forces and al-Qaida and terrorist elements from grouping either on the Pakistani side of the border, or crossing into our border, or vice-versa. That we have to check and pay more attention to, and President Musharraf is in agreement with us," Mr. Karzai said.

Mr. Karzai also called for speeding up international efforts to rebuild political and economic institutions, and to retrain the Afghan army, which eventually is expected to take over the work of international peacekeepers.