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Cheney in surprise Afghan visit

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Latest update : 2008-03-20

US Vice-President Dick Cheney has made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to visit President Hamid Karzai, ahead of the NATO summit early next month in Bucharest.

 

KABUL, March 20 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney
made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Thursday and met
President Hamid Karzai, as the United States urges NATO allies
to provide more troops and support.
 
NATO's Afghan mission is one of the toughest challenge
faced by the 59-year-old alliance and has led to open
differences among allies over strategy and troop levels.
Boosting troops numbers in Afghanistan will be a key issue at a
NATO summit in Bucharest in early April.
 
"We're going to want a very strong statement on NATO's long
term commitment for seeing Afghanistan successful," a senior
U.S. administration official travelling with Cheney told
reporters.
 
The strategy, he said, was "to help Afghanistan overcome
its very, very difficult history and be a successful member of
the international community that can sustain itself going
forward."
 
President George W. Bush asked Cheney, who is on a Middle
East trip that began in Iraq, to meet Karzai in advance of the
NATO summit "to discuss progress in a democratic Afghanistan,
as well as the work that lies ahead, especially in the south",
Lea Anne McBride, Cheney's spokeswoman, told reporters
travelling with him.
 
Cheney flew by helicopter from Kabul airport to the heavily
guarded presidential palace for talks with Karzai.
 
TALIBAN THREAT
 
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
in Afghanistan has about 43,000 troops.
 
"The vice president will discuss the existing
U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership and how we will continue
our efforts to fight terrorism and will help Afghanistan
further along the road toward becoming a more prosperous and
stable country," McBride said.
 
Taliban Islamist militants have threatened to step up
suicide attacks on the capital Kabul this year in a campaign to
wear down the will of NATO countries to carry on the fight in
Afghanistan and force a withdrawal of foreign troops.
 
NATO is struggling to come up with more troops, with some
European members reluctant to send their forces to southern and
eastern Afghanistan where U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch
soldiers clash almost daily with Taliban militants.
 
Canada, with 2,500 troops in southern Afghanistan, wants
NATO allies to provide another 1,000 soldiers to reinforce its
combat forces as a condition for keeping its troops in the
country.
 
The senior U.S. administration official said Karzai and
Cheney would also discuss steps the Afghan government needs to
take on fighting corruption and narcotics.
 
The Afghan government promised a major crackdown on
corruption this week, admitting it was rampant in every level
of the state. Afghanistan is ranked 172 out of 180 countries on
Transparency International's corruption perception index.
 
The country's raging illicit opium industry is the main
factor driving corruption, with the illegal crop accounting for
as much as a third of the entire economy. Afghanistan last year
produced 93 percent of the world's opium, which is processed to
make heroin, and efforts to curb the crop have largely failed.
 
Karzai and Cheney are also expected to talk about Afghan
parliamentary and presidential elections next year and discuss
Pakistan in the wake of elections there and how the neighbours
can work together to fight the common Taliban threat, the
administration official said.
 
Cheney will also meet U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
 

Date created : 2008-03-20

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