Karzai wants long-term security ties with U.S.
Rumsfeld in Afghanistan, says U.S. wants to assist nation's own forces
KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his country wants longer, stronger ties with the United States, including a long-term "strategic security relationship."
Karzai, appearing at a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Kabul, Afghanistan, made the remarks when asked about reports of the forging of bilateral security agreements and the establishment of permanent U.S. military troop presence in the country, a reference to bases.
The two leaders met as Rumsfeld continued his tour of military operations under the U.S. Central Command, including those in Iraq, which he visited on Tuesday. (Full story)
"The Afghan people want a longer-term relationship with the United States." Karzai said during a news conference with Rumsfeld. He said he has raised the issue with President Bush and emphasized that Afghanistan "is seeking such a partnership" and eventually will be making a formal request.
Rumsfeld said Washington is looking into ways it can help the fledgling democracy, such as equipping and training the country's own forces, "rather than the question of military bases and that type of thing."
Permanent military ties are a subject, he said, that is "presidential in its level of interest."
Before his meeting in Kabul, Rumsfeld stopped at the U.S. base in Kandahar. He spoke with U.S. commanders who gave him an assessment of the Afghan national army.
A top U.S. commander was blunt in his assessment. About 65,000 additional Afghan officers are needed for the Afghan national police, he said. There are 35,000 national police officers, with varying degrees of competency, he told Rumsfeld.
The military is bracing for a spring offensive by the Taliban, radical Islamic militants whose regime harbored Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda before the United States ousted it from power in 2001.
CNN's Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.