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Cheney visits Afghanistan ahead of NATO summit

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  • NEW: Vice President Dick Cheney has "brief" meeting with Afghan president
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KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney made a brief visit Thursday to Kabul, praising ties with the Afghan government and expressing hope that the NATO-led effort to confront the Taliban will be expanded.

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Vice President Dick Cheney meets the press Thursday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul.

After Cheney met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the two held a joint news conference and answered questions about the situation in the volatile central Asian nation, which is trying to buck an insurgency and improve its infrastructure and economy.

Cheney's departure was announced hours after the news conference.

The meeting with Karzai came before an April 2-4 NATO summit with heads of state in Romania in which Afghanistan will be the top item on the agenda.

"The United States and the other members of the coalition need to have a sufficient force here to be able to ensure security, to deal with the threat that is being represented by continuing activities by radicals and extremists -- the likes of the Taliban and al Qaeda," Cheney said.

"But ultimately security in Afghanistan will depend on the ability of the Afghan people to provide adequate forces that are well-trained and well-equipped."

Karzai said his government wants "an effective continuation of the two missions that we have here."

"One is the fight against terrorism; the other is the rebuilding of Afghanistan and especially the rebuilding of the security institutions, the army. As we get stronger with our own institutions, so we lessen the responsibility of the international community in defending Afghanistan and fighting terrorism," Karzai said.

Cheney's visit to Afghanistan -- which a U.S. Embassy source said will be "very brief" -- is his latest stop on an overseas trip, which began Sunday and included a stopover in Iraq.

The Taliban were toppled from power after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. But recently, the ousted regime has been attempting a comeback and has made inroads in eastern Afghanistan. Fighting has raged there and in the southern part of the country.

U.S., British, Dutch and Canadian troops have been engaged in combat against militants, but there have been concerns that other countries working with NATO's International Security Assistance Force aren't sharing the same combat burdens.

Last week, Canada's House of Commons voted to extend the country's military mission in Afghanistan until 2011, with the stipulation that NATO contribute more troops to Afghanistan's volatile Kandahar province. Most of Canada's 2,500 troops in the war-torn country are in Kandahar.

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is expected to rise over the summer to 32,000 from 28,000, with most of the increase coming from a deployment of 3,200 more Marines.

"I would expect that we'll see a reaffirmation and a resumption, if you will, or renewal of the commitment that we've made collectively as an alliance to the independence and freedom of the people of Afghanistan," Cheney said about the NATO summit in Bucharest.

"I'm quite confident that in fact NATO will continue to play a major role and hopefully even expand their efforts beyond those that they've already undertaken."

The United States is urging Afghanistan and Pakistan to cooperate in rooting out militants operating along their common border.

Cheney said he expects Pakistan's new government after the recent election to continue to be "good and effective friends and allies" with the United States.

"We believe, as I think most people do, that a government has an obligation to control its sovereign territory, to make certain that territory does not become a safe haven or sanctuary especially for terrorist groups intending to do harm to others, and I would expect that Pakistan will certainly fulfill that obligation," he said.

Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf have blamed each other for not having tighter border security, but the two countries have attempted to shore up ties.

Cheney was unhurt in a bomb attack on Bagram Air Base during a February 2007 visit to Afghanistan. A suspect in that attack, al Qaeda operative Abu Laith al-Libi, died in a CIA airstrike in January in Pakistan. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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