U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher traveled to Afghanistan January 7th to meet with President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin Dadfar Spanta, and other Afghan officials to reconfirm U.S. support for that developing democracy.
"As we start the new year," said Assistant Secretary Boucher, "let me make clear once again the absolute commitment of the United States to a sovereign, independent, democratic Afghanistan with a government that can provide safety and justice and opportunity to its citizens."
Assistant Secretary Boucher's visit to Afghanistan came after meeting with Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari. Mr. Boucher said the United States welcomes cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Both President Zardari and President Karzai, he noted, have a very strong determination to fight terrorism and to make their citizens safe.
"The only way we're going to beat back the Taliban and terrorists that are threatening Pakistanis and Afghanis, is by having that kind of Afghan-Pakistan cooperation," he said, and "strong United States and international support."
Afghanistan is preparing for elections this year. The Independent Election Commission has registered, thus far, some 3.5 million new voters and a voter registration drive continues. Assistant Secretary Boucher said the U.S., along with other international donors, is committed to funding the election.
Assistant Secretary Boucher said that during 2009 Afghans should begin to see the benefits of efforts by the Afghan government and its U.S. and other international partners to improve local governance, reform the Afghan police, upgrade training for the Afghan National Army, and extend public services, including electricity. To assist the Afghan government in providing security for the Afghan people, the U.S. will be sending more troops.
"One of the things we're doing more and more is sending troops who can work with Afghan counterparts," said Mr. Boucher. "We're sending troops who can support the Afghan police and provide protection for them. It's very much a joint effort at this stage," he said. "We'll be out there fighting, but we'll be fighting alongside our Afghan compatriots."
In addition, Mr. Boucher noted that the United States government is also planning an increase in the number of civilian experts assigned to work with Afghan partners on governance capacity building and on development projects.
The mission of U.S. forces, said Assistant Secretary Boucher, is "to help extend the reach of the Afghan government so that the Afghan government, the democratic government in Afghanistan, can provide safety and services and opportunity to its people."