BAGRAM, Afghanistan – Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search) promised Thursday that America will stand with Afghanistan as it tries to rebuild after a quarter-century of conflict and warned Taliban (search) rebels that they "are fighting a losing battle."
But the New York Democrat also said more troops are needed in the multinational military coalition providing security. She told The Associated Press it was for others to decide whether those troops should come from the United States or other countries.
The former first lady, who was in Afghanistan along with Sen. Jack Reed (search), D-R.I., on a whistlestop tour to spend Thanksgiving with U.S. troops, said the United States is determined to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai (search).
"I am very impressed by the resolve of the Afghan government, President Karzai in particular," Clinton said after a meeting with Karzai at the presidential palace.
She spoke in a room at the palace still pocked by decades of conflict. Two windows behind Clinton had bullet holes in them.
Clinton said Washington is concerned about recent attacks, especially in the south and east of the country, by Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters against aid workers, Afghan government employees and soldiers.
More than a dozen aid workers have been killed this year, most recently a 29-year-old French woman working with the U.N. refugee agency who was gunned down in broad daylight earlier this month south of the capital. The killing led the United Nations and several aid agencies to pull international staffers out of large swaths of the country.
"The U.S. is resolved to stand as a strong partner and to ensure that the terrorists, whoever they are, wherever they come from, will be dealt with," Clinton said. "The message should be: The Taliban terrorists are fighting a losing battle."
Clinton and Reed, who once served as a U.S. Army paratrooper, later sat down for a dinner of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie with about 50 American soldiers at Bagram Air Base (search), just north of the capital.
"I also want to convey to them that the American people are fully behind them as they carry out a very difficult task," Clinton said.
Afterward, Clinton said in the AP interview that more troops are needed to defeat insurgents and to provide the security needed for Afghans to rebuild.
Taliban and Al Qaeda forces are trying "to wear down our staying power," she said. "I believe we need more troops to be able to provide that security."
Clinton said she couldn't say whether additional forces should be drawn from the U.S. military, NATO nations or the armed forces of other countries.
"It is hard to see how in a country this large with the challenges it faces we can expect to deliver the necessary security with the troop strength we have," Clinton said.
Clinton met with soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, which is based at Fort Drum in northern New York.
"I have a lot of respect for her as a woman," said Staff Sgt. Tamecha Moore, 31, from Hempstead, N.Y. "I hope she runs for president."
Clinton has said she has no intention to run for president in 2004.
The two senators, who have criticized the Bush administration's handling of postwar operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, were later traveling to Iraq. Reed is making his second visits to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bagram Air Base, just north of Kabul, is home to most of the 11,600 coalition soldiers in Afghanistan. An additional 5,500 peacekeepers patrol the capital.
On Nov. 7, American and Afghan soldiers launched a special anti-terrorism operation in two eastern provinces of snow-covered mountains bordering Pakistan: Nuristan and Kunar.
On Sunday a U.S. transport helicopter crashed just after leaving Bagram in support of the operation, killing five U.S. servicemen and injuring eight. The cause of the crash is being investigated, but the Pentagon said the MH-53's engine may have failed.
Some 35 Americans have died from hostile fire in Afghanistan since the October 2001 start of the Afghan war, according to the U.S. military.
Karzai's government has taken important steps toward adopting a new constitution and holding elections in war-torn Afghanistan.
But Karzai and the coalition forces have been criticized for failing to reign in warlords, and for allowing cultivation of poppies — the source of heroin — to boom.
In another development Thursday, Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-American, arrived in Kabul to assume his position as the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Khalilzad, an ethnic Pashtun, previously served as President Bush's special envoy.