In an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, US President George W. Bush reiterated that the United States would stand by the war-torn country despite a transition of power in the White House. The farewell visit comes just hours after a trip to Iraq, where he said the war in Iraq had been hard, but necessary for US security and world peace.
George W. Bush with Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul
Amid tight security, US President George W. Bush’s plane landed at Bagram, the main US air base outside the capital Kabul on Monday morning. He met US troops stationed there and then flew to Kabul to meet his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai.
Addressing a joint press conference later, he praised the progress that had been made in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, including infrastructure development such as construction of roads, schools and hospitals.
But he also admitted that violence was on the rise in the war torn country and that "difficult days” were ahead in the fight against the ongoing insurgency.
“There is no question that the Taliban wants to fight back. Why? Because they want to regain power. They can’t stand a free society. They are lethal and they are tough,” said Bush.
It’s seven years since President Bush ordered the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, which led to the ouster of the hard-line Taliban regime.
Currently, an estimated 65,000 foreign troops have been stationed in the country to oversee and protect the reconstruction work and, most importantly, to fight against a resurgent Taliban. The US plans to send an additional 20,000 troops by next year amid rising insurgency.
A recent report by an international think-tank, the International Council on Security and Development claims that the Taliban have expanded their influence on almost 70 percent of the country and that the US and its allies are in a genuine danger of losing the country.
However, speaking to reporters, President Bush asserted that his country was committed to establishing a stable democracy in Afghanistan.
“It is in general interest that Afghanistan’s democracy flourishes. It is in America's interests that we will forever deny safe havens for people who still want to kill our citizens.”
Award for co-operation
For his part, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his country was grateful for the help provided by the US and other allies so far.
"The decision in Afghanistan is to continue our cooperation with the international community till we have defeated terrorism and extremism and the threat that emanates from them to us, to our neighbours and to the rest of the world," Karzai said.
Karzai also presented President Bush with the Ghazi Amanullah Khan Medal, the country's highest award, for his service to the people of Afghanistan.
This was Bush's second trip to Afghanistan since 2001 and most likely his last as the President of the United States.
With President-elect Barack Obama due to take office in five weeks, the focus is now gradually shifting to the new administration and its future polices towards Afghanistan.
Obama has so far promised that his government will make Afghanistan a higher priority and will form a new strategy for fighting Islamist extremists.