Bush Discusses Political Progress in Afghanistan With Karzai

After speaking by telephone with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai on Thursday, President Bush pledged $2 million to help equip the Afghan army.

The leaders reviewed progress toward the national assembly that will choose a post-Taliban government for Afghanistan next month, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

He called it "a very friendly 10-minute phone call" in which Bush also reiterated to Karzai the United States' commitment to helping the Afghan people rebuild their lives.

Separately, Bush signed a memorandum to the Pentagon and State Department saying he had determined that military aid to Afghanistan is in the United States' national interest and directing the Defense Department to supply Afghanistan with up to $2 million in defense training and surplus equipment for the building of an Afghan national army.

In June, former Afghan King Mohammad Zaher Shah will convene a loya jirga, a grand national assembly of tribal elders and other Afghan representatives, that will select a new government to rule Afghanistan until elections can be held in late 2003.

The United States is monitoring work on that national assembly as a measure of how much stability the post-Taliban Afghan government can enjoy in a political culture still dominated by tribal warlords.