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Last Updated: Friday, 9 May, 2003, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
US reassures Afghan leaders
Afghan children eating bread
Afghans say they have felt little benefit from reconstruction efforts

The US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, has told Afghan leaders that Washington's involvement in Iraq will not deflect it from continuing to provide long-term assistance to their country.

Mr Armitage said his talks with Afghan leaders in the capital Kabul showed that the United States could handle two big foreign challenges at once.

But a BBC correspondent in Kabul, Paul Anderson, says the Afghan people and United Nations officials are increasingly concerned about the slow pace of reconstruction and lack of security in the country.

Mr Armitage met Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and Defence Minister Mohamed Fahim.

He then held a brief news conference held in the shattered remains of Afghanistan's National Museum.

"President Bush has asked me to come to Afghanistan... to dramatically make the point that the United States, although we may be occupied at present in Iraq, is not going to forget our responsibilities here in Afghanistan," he said.

"We are able to do two things at the same time."

Mr Armitage also said there would be no early withdrawal of the thousands of American forces in Afghanistan.

"The United States will withdraw forces once we are sure that the government of Afghanistan feels perfectly secure and the people of Afghanistan have found necessary stability," he said.

Mr Armitage also handed over a cheque for $100,000 to the minister of culture for the restoration of the museum, which was sacked and looted during and immediately after the Taleban regime's time in power.

He said that he shared the concerns of President Karzai about security along the Pakistani border, but avoided any criticism of the government in Pakistan, a key regional US ally.

Afghan officials say guerrillas sympathetic to the ousted Taleban regime are slipping across the border.


Our correspondent says many Kabul residents complain there has been little improvement in their lives since the Taleban regime was overthrown 18 months ago, with none of the proposed infrastructure projects up and running.

The UN says lawlessness is rife throughout the country, threatening security just as much as the remnants of the Taleban, who are fighting American and Afghan forces in the south and south-east.

It wants the International Security Assistance Force, which is currently confined to Kabul, expanded to other parts of the country, but Washington is resisting such a move.

Mr Armitage's visit is a short trip - a matter of hours squeezed between talks held on Thursday in Pakistan and more talks in Delhi on Saturday.

Last week in Kabul, US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, announced the end of major combat operations in Afghanistan and a shift to the reconstruction phase.

The BBC's Paul Anderson
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