WASHINGTON – President Bush pledged anew Friday to help Afghanistan "claim its democratic future" and urged fellow leaders to meet their financial commitments to Kabul.
The president spoke in the White House about U.S.-led efforts to bring peace and democracy to Afghanistan while improving the quality of life with food, education and health programs.
"Afghanistan has entered a new era of hope," he said. "We want to continue to be a part of the new era of hope."
A year ago, Bush ordered the first air strikes against Afghanistan to open the war against the ruling Taliban regime. His focus has recently turned to Iraq, and U.S. officials are working on postwar plans for Baghdad that could include using American and other foreign troops as a stabilizing force until a new government is formed.
"We went into Afghanistan to free people, because we believe in freedom. We believe every life counts. Every life matters," Bush said. "So we're helping people recover from living under years of tyranny and oppression. We're helping Afghanistan claim its democratic future."
Bush said the United States is keeping its pledge to spend more than $4.5 billion to help Afghanistan recover. In addition, U.S. children have donated more than $10 million -- "that's a lot of kids working hard to collect money," Bush said.
He said some countries are not helping out as promised.
"If you say you will help the Afghanistan people, do it," Bush said. He did not single out any nation, but more than half of the 29 countries that have promised aid have not yet met their full pledges for this year.
A spokesman for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee, however, said Bush himself has not done enough to make sure America's commitment is met because his budget for this year sets aside no money specifically for Afghan reconstruction. And, in the name of fiscal discipline, he canceled a $5 billion emergency spending package in August that included $150 million for State Department health and agricultural programs in Afghanistan.
"George W. Bush still does not understand that families can't feed their kids flowery speeches or rebuild their communities with White House photos. We made a promise to rebuild Afghanistan and that means writing a check, not just a press release," said the spokesman, David Sirota.