Bush touts gains, pledges support to Afghanistan
President Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed Wednesday on the need to work jointly to fight narcotics trafficking, terrorism and a resurgent Taliban, and on the necessity of international help with energy needs, a White House official said.
The two, in New York for the annual gathering of the U.N. General Assembly, met for about 30 minutes at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Bush used the session for an update on conditions in Afghanistan six years after the U.S.-led invasion, and for a public display of renewed support for Karzai, who took office on the heels of the Taliban’s defeat.
With prompting from Karzai, who was seated at his side, Bush noted that child mortality had started to drop in Afghanistan, and that it was in the interest of the United States to continue helping the struggling country.
Afghanistan continues to trouble the Bush administration, with the Taliban keeping up attacks and elements of Al Qaeda thought to be hiding there and in nearby Pakistan.
On Tuesday, U.S. military officials reported that a daylong battle near a Taliban-controlled town in Helmand province killed more than 60 Taliban fighters and one soldier from the U.S.-led coalition. In a separate battle Wednesday in Oruzgan province, officials reported more than 65 Taliban troops killed.
And Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf recently has been under domestic pressure to scale back counter-terrorism efforts because of political turmoil.
For the White House, Afghanistan carries political as well as security implications, with critics saying that the Iraq war has diverted military resources and attention from efforts to rout Al Qaeda elements still operating out of Afghanistan.
Administration officials say they have been able to support Afghanistan while continuing military operations in Iraq. At the same time, Bush has faced criticism from some Republicans for not doing enough to fight narcotics traffic originating in Afghanistan.
Gordon D. Johndroe, the spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said the two presidents discussed how to cut back on opium poppy cultivation and ways to provide the Afghan people with alternative means to make a living.
Karzai said his country was regaining self-sufficiency in food production after years of shortages spurred by the chaos created by a Soviet-supported government and then the Taliban.
Johndroe said the two presidents also talked about the importance of helping Afghanistan use its natural gas and coal to meet the country’s energy needs.