Afghan President Hamid Karzai left the White House with no promise of more control over thousands of US troops in his country and with strains in his relationship with the US on full display.
Despite a chummy side-by-side news conference on Monday with US President George W. Bush that was designed to showcase US support for Afghanistan's first democratically elected leader, Karzai also got no promise of the quick repatriation of Afghan prisoners now in US custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.
Both issues have caused Karzai headaches at home, where anti-US sentiment recently exploded over a news report, since retracted, that US interrogators flushed a Koran down a toilet. Sixteen Afghans died in anti-US protests this month.
"Of course our troops will respond to US commanders," Bush said, even while praising the progress of Afghan forces and taking pains to say that the US military consults with Karzai's government.
There are about 20,000 US troops in Afghanistan. There are also about 8,200 troops from NATO countries in Kabul and elsewhere.
Three years after the fall of the rigid Islamic rule of the Taliban, Afghanistan is a grateful US ally but one obviously eager to assert greater independence. Juggling heavy troop commitments in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, the Bush administration would gladly hand the Afghans more authority if the country's military and economy could manage independently.
That time is years away, as Bush's pledge of continuing support and a joint statement laying out US help for Afghan security, anti-terror and economic programs attest.
"Our mission in Afghanistan and Iraq is the same," Bush said on Monday in the White House. "I mean, we want these new democracies to be able to defend themselves. And so we will continue to work with the Afghans to train them and to cooperate and consult with the government."
Karzai smiled and nodded as Bush spoke. He invited Bush to visit Afghanistan, as US Vice President Dick Cheney and first lady Laura Bush have done.
"Afghanistan will continue to need a lot of support," Karzai said.
The joint statement issued on Monday seals the two nations' long-term partnership, enabling "Afghanistan to stand on its own feet eventually and be a good, active member of the region, contributing to peace and stability," Karzai said.
The statement also guarantees US forces the continued use of Bagram Air Base, where reports of US abuse of Afghan prisoners have infuriated both Karzai and his political opponents at home.
Karzai toned down recent criticism of the US for ceding too little authority over US troops in Afghanistan. He did not repeat a tart assessment of US largesse he made on Sunday, when he accused the Washington of turning a cold shoulder to suffering in his country before the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
"Regrettably the world, the United States and other countries ... did not see it compatible with their national interests to address the plight of the Afghan people then," Karzai told Boston University graduates on Sunday.
Afghanistan was occupied by the former Soviet Union and the Taliban before the US invaded in late 2001 to rout suspected terrorism collaborators.
Bush, meanwhile, did not sugarcoat the US position that Karzai's government must do more, and fast, to address Afghanistan's burgeoning opium poppy industry. Bush brought up the drug issue himself, without waiting for a reporter to ask him about it.
"There's too much poppy cultivation in Afghanistan. And I made it very clear to the president that ... we have got to work together to eradicate [the] poppy crop," Bush said.
Karzai has been cooperative, and a UN report showing a dip in poppy production is a good sign, Bush said.
"Exactly," Karzai said, nodding.
A diplomatic cable sent on May 13 from the US embassy in Kabul to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a US-sponsored crackdown on the narcotics industry had not been very effective, partly because Karzai "has been unwilling to assert strong leadership," according to a New York Times report on Sunday.
Karzai defended his government's efforts and said that with foreign assistance his country could be free of poppy crops in five to six years.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and