Bush vows to aid Karzai

U.S. to help rebuild Afghanistan, won't join peacekeepers

`We stand ready to help'

Visiting Afghan says nation rejects terror, `will stand on its feet'

January 29, 2002|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The United States will help Afghanistan build and train its army and will play a leading role in rebuilding the war-ravaged nation, President Bush said yesterday. But he made clear that U.S. troops would not join an international peacekeeping mission.

The president stood in the Rose Garden beside Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's interim leader, who is the first Afghan leader to visit Washington in nearly four decades. Bush praised Karzai's government for reflecting "the hopes of all Afghans for a new and better future, a future free from terror, free from war and free from want."

Bush, who has long opposed using American troops as peacekeepers, said the United States would instead provide intelligence data and logistical support to an international security force already operating in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

"If the troops get in trouble, we stand ready to help," Bush said. But "better yet than peacekeepers," he said, "let's have Afghanistan have her own military."

Karzai, here on a three-day visit, arrived on Sunday hopeful that the Bush administration would allow U.S. troops to participate as peacekeepers, who essentially serve as a security force to keep order in nations recovering from war.

In a private meeting, Karzai asked Bush to push for expanding the duties of the peacekeeping force, to patrol areas of the countryside being terrorized by warlords and armed gangs.

Speaking after Bush, Karzai said he had "no concerns" with what the president had offered. The interim leader said his country needs U.S. help to rebuild, but vowed that Afghanistan "will stand eventually on its own feet."

"It will be a country that will defend its borders and not allow terrorism to return to it, or bother it, or trouble it," Karzai said in English. "We'll be self-reliant."

Karzai arrived at the White House after attending an emotional ceremony outside Afghanistan's embassy, where the country's black, red and green flag was raised above a building that is under renovation after being shut down during Taliban rule.

At their news conference, Bush answered wide-ranging questions about peacekeeping in Afghanistan, as well as about tensions in the Middle East and the treatment of the 158 al-Qaida and Taliban prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Critics have said that the detainees should be classified as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, which decree that POWs need not undergo interrogation beyond supplying name, rank and serial number. Bush said that he had discussed the matter with his national security advisers yesterday and that "we are not going to call them prisoners of war."

"The reason why is, al-Qaida is not a known military," Bush said. "These are killers. These are terrorists. They know no countries. And the only thing they know about countries is when they find a country that's been weak and they want to occupy it like a parasite."

Bush insisted that he and his advisers are "in total agreement" on the prisoners. But Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has argued that the United States should recognize that the Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners fall under the Geneva Conventions, which stipulate that they be classified either as POWs or as "unlawful combatants."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has argued that the prisoners are clearly unlawful fighters and that the conventions' requirement that captives be officially classified comes into play only when there is doubt about their status.

The watchdog group Human Rights Watch disagrees.

"The Geneva Conventions presume that a captured combatant is a prisoner of war, unless a competent tribunal determines otherwise on a case-by-case basis," the group said in a statement yesterday. It warned that making an exception in this case could haunt the United States if U.S. troops are taken captive in the future.

Bush said he is "looking at the legalities involved" under the Geneva Conventions and that "however I make my decision, these detainees will be well-treated."

"They just won't be afforded prisoner-of-war status," he said.

Bush met with Karzai as he was putting the final touches on his State of the Union address, which the president will deliver tonight at 9. An aide said the speech would be as much about the "state of the war" as about the state of the union. He said the president would warn Americans that al-Qaida operates in dozens of nations besides Afghanistan and that Bush would describe the lengths to which "the enemy is preparing to go."

Aides said the president would lay out three themes for his agenda this year: national security, homeland security and economic security. Rather than focus on a laundry list of new programs, the aides said, Bush will focus on broad themes and will begin talking about specific policies on a two-day swing through North Carolina, Georgia and Florida beginning tomorrow.

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