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10/29/03 - AFGHANISTAN TAKES A STEP FORWARD - 2003-10-30

In the past quarter century, the Afghan people have endured military coups, brutal occupation by the former Soviet Union, bloody civil war, and the tyranny of the Taleban, who tried to impose their extremist interpretation of Islam on the country. But now, the Afghan people are making the difficult transition to peace, security, and self-rule.

A new Afghan national army, representative of Afghanistan's many ethnic groups, is being trained. Some elements are already in the field working with the U.S.-led coalition. And on October 24th, Afghanistan took another step forward when approximately one-thousand former combatants paraded in the northern province of Kunduz without their weapons. The former militia members had turned in their guns as part of a United Nations-sponsored disarmament, demobilization, and re-integration program. Afghan President Hamid Karzai called the event “one of the best days in Afghanistan.”

Ultimately, as many as one-hundred-thousand Afghans are expected to turn in their weapons voluntarily and return to purely civilian pursuits. President George W. Bush says the U.S. is committed to working with the U-N, NATO, and other coalition partners to help Afghans:

“The United Nations has been a friend of the Afghan people, distributing food and medicine, helping refugees return home, advising on a new constitution, and helping to prepare the way for nationwide elections. NATO has taken over the U-N-mandated security force in Kabul. American and coalition forces continue to track and defeat al-Qaida terrorists and remnants of the Taleban. Our efforts to rebuild that country go on.”

The U.S. is committed to a free and stable Afghanistan. President Bush has proposed to spend an additional one-billion-two-hundred-million dollars this year for the Afghan reconstruction effort. To improve the lives of average Afghans, the U.S. has completed more than four-hundred projects, including providing twenty-five million textbooks for Afghan children, repairing health clinics, and rebuilding highways.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. helped to liberate an oppressed people. As President Bush says, “We've seen in Afghanistan that the road to freedom can be hard.... We've also seen in Afghanistan that the road to freedom is the only one worth traveling."