US committed to establishing democracy in Afghanistan: Bush


Kabul : US President George W. Bush arrived in Afghanistan early Monday on a surprise farewell visit, committing the United States to establishing a stable democracy in the war-torn country.

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Bush met his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai and US troops on his visit, the details of which were shrouded in secrecy as the country and its foreign allies battle a rising Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency.

“We have a strategic interest and I believe a moral interest in a prosperous and peaceful democratic Afghanistan, and no matter how long it takes, we will help the people of Afghanistan succeed,” said Bush, who ordered the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001,

which unseated the Taliban.

Speaking to US troops on his arrival at Bagram air base outside Kabul, Bush admitted that the goal of establishing a thriving democracy in Afghanistan was “a difficult and long effort” but added, “We want to lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.”

The president flew to Afghanistan from Iraq, where he made an unannounced visit Sunday and met with President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The visits were likely to be his last to the two war-torn countries as US president. President-elect Barack Obama takes office Jan 20.

Speaking to reporters on board the presidential aircraft on his way to Afghanistan, Bush said “no question the violence is up” in Afghanistan but insisted that the reason for the increase was that Afghan and foreign troops were engaging the Taliban and Al Qaeda in areas where they hadn’t been confronted before.

He likened the situation to Iraq, where a US troop surge initially led to an increase in violence, while he admitted that the mission in Afghanistan would be difficult.

“This is a significantly larger country than Iraq and significantly poorer,” he said. “The infrastructure is difficult, but nevertheless, the mission is essential.”

Bush had visited Afghanistan once before, in March 2006.

In contrast, he made four visits to Iraq. The purpose of his latest, on Sunday, was to bolster the recently signed US- Iraq Status of Forces Agreement which was passed by the Iraqi parliament in November.

The deal, debated over three weeks in the legislature, paves the way for the transfer of full sovereignty to Iraq and the departure of US troops by 2011.

Speaking in Baghdad, Bush echoed sentiments he expressed later in Afghanistan, speaking of the United States’ five-year involvement in Iraq since the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 that “the work hasn’t been easy, but it has been necessary for American security, Iraqi hope and world peace.”

At a news conference, an Iraqi journalist also threw his shoes at Bush and shouted insults at the US president.