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Khalilzad Warns Tough Road Ahead for Afghanistan - 2004-10-15

The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan says it could take as long as ten years before that country becomes a successful democratic state. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad made the comments Friday after meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The U.S. ambassador calls last week's Afghan elections remarkable, pointing out that terrorists, al-Qaida forces and warlords were all unable to derail the country's first ever nationwide presidential voting.

But after meeting with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, the U.S. ambassador to Kabul left no doubt the country still faces many hurdles on the path to democratic rule.

"If the journey of Afghanistan standing on its own feet being a successful country is a ten mile journey, Afghanistan has just in my view passed mile three," Mr. Khalilzad said. "It could take as long as ten years for it to be a truly successful country in terms of security, in terms of economic development in terms of being a successful democratic state."

A Pentagon spokesman was quick to add this should not be read as an indication that American and other foreign troops are going to remain in the country for that length of time.

One of the tasks facing the 18,000 American troops in Afghanistan is the ongoing hunt for Osama bin-Laden.

"He will be caught," Mr. Khalilzad added. "I don't know when, but I think ultimately one day we will find him in a hole somewhere and his days are numbered."

At this point, though, Ambassador Khalilzad says the capture of the al-Qaida leader may be more symbolic than strategic, given the fact that the battle against terrorism is now worldwide and more focused on networks than individuals.