Bush: Afghanistan is a victory over terrorism
Hamid Karzai thanks U.S. for aiding his country
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Tuesday claimed victory in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and announced what he called five new initiatives to strengthen the links between that country and the United States.
Bush praised the visiting head of Afghanistan's interim government, Hamid Karzai, as a man of "honor, courage and skill helping to build a new and democratic Afghanistan."
"That journey to democracy and peace deserves the support and respect of every nation," he said at a Rose Garden news conference after a meeting with Karzai, "because free nations do not breed the ideology of terror."
"Coalition forces, including many brave Afghans, have brought America, Afghanistan and the world its first victory in the war on terror," the president said. "Afghanistan is no longer a terrorist factory sending thousands of killers into the world."
A short while later in the Afghan capital city of Kabul, NATO forces came under fire Tuesday when at least one rocket exploded outside their headquarters. One soldier suffered non-lifethreatening injuries, officials said.
About 20,000 U.S. troops and more than 6,000 ISAF peacekeepers have been involved in almost daily gunfights with members of al Qaeda and the ousted Taliban leadership, who appear intent on disrupting elections for the Afghan Constitutional Assembly planned for September.
"The fight, this war, this fight against the remnants of terrorism will go on for some time," Karzai warned during an appearance Monday on PBS' "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer."
"It will not end this year. It will not end next year. We may have it for many years to come. So Afghanistan will continue to have security incidents as it builds its security institutions."
Karzai has come under criticism for reportedly cooperating with corrupt warlords, but in the Rose Garden on Tuesday he said that the Afghan government would make no deals with "bad people."
"As president, it's my job to take country to better future ... to a higher degree of democracy," he said. "To do that peacefully ... I will talk to anybody that comes to talk to me about stability and peace and about movement towards democracy. ...
"There are bad people in Afghanistan with whom we are not making a deal, with whom we are not talking and with whom we will not make a deal."
Both in the Rose Garden and in his address to a joint meeting of Congress, Karzai acknowledged a growing problem with drug trafficking -- used by some warlords to raise money for more weapons. Afghanistan is "adamant," Karzai said, about ending the drug problem.
"Drug profits undermine our efforts to build a health national economy," he told Congress. "... We are determined to cleanse Afghanistan of this menace."
Bush noted "a long road ahead" but pledged that the United States would stand with Afghanistan "as partners."
To seal those ties, Bush ticked off five new initiatives that include training newly elected officials, expanding assistance in the educational realm, working toward a bilateral trade agreement, expanding opportunities for women and increasing opportunities for cultural exchange with the United States.
"My government affirms its ironclad commitment to help Afghanistan succeed and prosper," he said.
Karzai thanked Bush for making democracy possible in his nation.
"We have a constitution that we have today which is the most enlightened in that part of the world," Karzai said. "And that constitution has been made possible because of the liberation that you helped us gain and because of the stability that the United States helped us have in Afghanistan."
"Thank you very much, Mr. President, for that."
Speaking to Congress, Karzai said that Afghans embraced the American war on terrorism even though the rise of the Taliban and al Qaeda had come about after the United States and other Western countries left Afghanistan to the warlords after Soviet Union pulled out.
Karzai reminded U.S. lawmakers that Afghanistan faced alone the "unspeakable terror" of the Taliban and al Qaeda "long before the horrific tragedy of September 11."
"The terrorists subjected the people of Afghanistan to unspeakable terror even though we were among the most pious Muslims in the world," he said. "These atrocities continued for many years, and the world remained unengaged."
However, Karzai said, Afghanistan is grateful "for your generosity and commitment to our people" and will continue to support U.S. efforts to battle terrorists.
"You have supported us with your resources, with your leadership in the world community and most importantly with the precious lives of your soldiers," he said.
"Without the partnership between our two nations," Karzai said, Afghanistan would not have made the progress it has, including the opening of schools to boys and girls, new health centers and road reconstruction to stimulate trade.
Both Bush and Karzai acknowledged that Afghanistan is a work in progress.
Karzai noted that his country remains "one of the poorest." Only 6 percent of its people have access to electricity, few have access to safe drinking water and farmers have a shortage of water to irrigate their crops, he said.
Armed militias still pose a serious problem, he said, especially when they are using the illegal drug trade to buy arms.
"We have come a long way, but our common journey is far from over," he said.
Still, he said, Afghanistan is confident it will succeed, particularly with international help.
"To succeed, we ask for your continued investment," he said. "Afghanistan is open for business and American companies are welcome."
Karzai also addressed new freedoms among women in Afghanistan in the wake of the oppressive Taliban regime.
"The new constitution replaces the Taliban-imposed gender discrimination by assigning 25 percent of the seats in our future parliament for women," Karzai said.
On Monday, Karzai visited the Pentagon, pressing for more NATO peacekeeping troops to help the 20,000 U.S. forces already in his nation.
"The Afghan people demand and insist on disarming and demobilizing private militias," Karzai told Congress. "Only with your support, and that of the international community, can we achieve this necessary goal."
At the Pentagon, Karzai was asked about the chances of capturing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The president expressed optimism. "Has a fugitive run forever? No, at least not in my country," Karzai said. "We will catch him one day, sooner or later."
CNN's Ed Henry and Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report.