Afghan president thanks US troops

Published: Monday 23rd March 2015 by The News Editor

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Afghanistan’s president has thanked US troops and taxpayers for their sacrifices in nearly 14 years of war as he began a visit to America.

Ashraf Ghani pledged that his impoverished country will not remain a burden to the west.

And he said: “We do not now ask what the United States can do for us,” in remarks meant to bolster the Obama administration’s conviction that Mr Ghani is a reliable partner worth supporting over the long term.

“We want to say what Afghanistan will do for itself and for the world,” he added.

“And that means we are going to put our house in order.”

Mr Ghani’s relationship with Washington stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, whose antagonism toward the US culminated in a refusal to sign security agreements with Washington and Nato before leaving office last year.

Mr Ghani signed the pacts within days of becoming president in September, and has since enjoyed a close relationship with American diplomats and military leaders.

Mr Ghani and his chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, were welcomed by defence secretary Ash Carter at a ceremony in the Pentagon’s centre courtyard.

It was a poignant setting for the start of Mr Ghani’s visit.

On September 11 2001, terrorists hijacked an American Airlines jetliner and flew it into the Pentagon, killing all on board and 125 people in the building.

The US responded to the attacks on Washington and New York’s World Trade Centre by invading Afghanistan a month later, beginning the longest war in American history.

Mr Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah are heading later to the Camp David presidential retreat for closed door meetings with Mr Carter and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Later in the week, Mr Ghani will meet US president Barack Obama at the White House and address a joint meeting of Congress.

Mr Carter praised the Afghan president as a committed leader who knows that “Afghanistan’s future is ultimately for the Afghans to grab hold of and for Afghans to decide”.

Those themes emphasised by Mr Carter and Mr Ghani – that Kabul’s new leaders are more reliable and appreciative of US assistance, and that the US alone cannot solve Afghanistan’s problems – are central to the administration’s approach to carrying out Mr Obama’s pledge to end the war.

The US leader has promised to remove the remaining American troops from Afghanistan by the end of his presidency.

But deficiencies in the Afghan security forces, heavy casualties in the ranks of the Afghan army and police, a fragile new government and fears that Islamic State fighters could gain a foothold in Afghanistan, have combined to persuade Mr Obama to slow the withdrawal.

Instead of trimming the current US force of 9,800 to 5,500 by the end of this year, US officials say the administration now might keep many of them there well into 2016.

Mr Obama has said that after that, the US would only maintain an embassy-based security force in Kabul of perhaps 1,000 troops.

Mr Ghani needs a firm commitment of American support in his fight against the Taliban and other insurgent groups, including an Islamic State affiliate, which he fears is finding a foothold in Afghanistan.

With that in mind, Mr Ghani proclaimed at the Pentagon ceremony that the US is supporting the winning side.

Mr Ghani said: “We die. But we will never be defeated.

“Terrorism is a threat. It’s evil. But we, the people of Afghanistan, are willing to speak truth to terror by saying no, you will never overwhelm us, you will never subdue us. We are going to overcome.

“And in this endeavour our partnership with the United States is foundational because we will be the first line of defence for freedom globally.”

Published: Monday 23rd March 2015 by The News Editor

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