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Afghanistan President Ghani thanks US troops on first official visit

The president of Afghanistan has thanked United States troops deployed in his country over the past 14 years. Ashraf Ghani's American visit was aimed to start a new chapter in US-Afghanistan ties.

In his first official visit to the United States since taking office, Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani (pictured above, right) expressed appreciation for the efforts of US soldiers at a welcoming ceremony held Monday at the Pentagon.

"We do not now ask what the United States can do for us," Ghani said, adapting a famous phrase by former US President John F. Kennedy, "We want to say what Afghanistan will do for itself and for the world. And that means we are going to put our house in order," he added.

Ghani and his former election rival, now Afghanistan's chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, were welcomed at a ceremony by US Defense Secretary Ash Carter (pictured above, left), held in the Pentagon's center courtyard. The Pentagon was one of the targets of the September 11, 2001 terror attack which prompted the US to lead an invasion of Afghanistan later that year and oust its Taliban leaders.

Ghani thanked American troops for their sacrifices in the 14 years of conflict since then, promising his government would not "be a burden" to the international community.

Carter praised Ghani, saying the leader knew that "Afghanistan's future is ultimately for the Afghans to grab hold of and for Afghans to decide."

Their comments illustrated efforts to revive the relationship between the US and Afghan leadership, which had become strained in recent years under former President Hamid Karzai.

Camp David meeting

Following the welcome, Ghani and Abdullah went to the Camp David presidential retreat for closed-door meetings with Carter and US Secretary of State John Kerry as well as other top advisors.

"Today's productive meetings underscore the enduring nature of the... friendship," Kerry told reporters following the talks according to news agency AFP, adding it showed how the two nations have "grown closer after 14 years of shared sacrifice."

The United States is weighing up whether to, at Ghani's request, slow the pace of its military exit from Afghanistan due to the threat still posed by the Taliban. Washington aimed to have only a handful of troops remaining in the country by the end of 2016. Afghanistan's leadership has also called for continued financial backing from the US.

On Tuesday, Ghani is expected to meet US President Barack Obama at the White House.

se/rc (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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