Karzai Tours Rural Nebraska

Fresh off visits to the White House and Boston University, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (search) was in Nebraska on Wednesday to personally thank U.S. troops and take in a bit of life on a farm.

"Your work, your service and your sacrifice has brought back Afghanistan to the Afghan people," Karzai told the mostly military crowd of about 350 gathered at Offutt Air Force Base (search) south of Bellevue.

"Today, also with your help, the country of Afghanistan is being rebuilt."

Karzai told the audience a story about U.S. sacrifice in his country.

One day, he said, a terrorist threw a bomb into a U.S. Army Humvee. A soldier inside the vehicle picked up the bomb and looked up to toss it away. He saw women and children nearby at a market, so he kept the bomb under his seat until it went off. It cost him a leg, Karzai said.

"Afghanistan will remember your fight," he said to warm applause.

Staff Sgt. Jonathan George, who listened to Karzai's speech, said it was nice to hear the positive feedback.

Airman James Goodman added, "It makes us feel like we've done something for a cause."

An Air Force Chaplain, Capt. Chris Conklin, said, "I loved that story that he (Karzai) shared, because people have sacrificed so much."

After the stop at Offutt, Karzai toured the feed yard and farm of Harry Knobbe, in West Point in northeast Nebraska. Karzai said he had friends who visited Knobbe's farm about seven years ago who were amazed at how many cattle could be run with so few workers.

"I will take this experience back home. I will share it with our farmers and our cattle owners, and I hope they can do as well" as the Knobbes.

The tour was intended to give the Afghan president's group an opportunity to see how a city of 3,660 supports a sausage company and meatpacking plant, small businesses and farmers growing corn and raising cattle.

"You can go see a lab, drive around a city, but this might give them a real chance at seeing how a successful rural American city thrives," said Thomas Gouttierre, director of the University of Nebraska's (search) Center for Afghanistan Studies.

Knobbe has about 900 acres of corn, alfalfa and soybeans and runs a cattle feedyard that lies just behind his house.

"In this country we have the right to own the land, to make a profit," Knobbe said, adding that he and others hope to show Karzai and other Afghan officials that self-motivation is the key to good production.

During lunch at the farm, Karzai was given a pair cowboy boots, a gift from local business leaders, cattle operators and friends of Gouttierre's.

Knobbe said Karzai asked many questions about agriculture in Nebraska and was particularly interested in the process of mixing manure and water to fertilize crops.

He left Knobbe's farm in a pouring rain that began about midway through lunch.

Karzai and his group were headed for UNO where, later Wednesday, he was to receive an honorary doctorate.

Karzai faces economic and military challenges in Afghanistan, including the country's status as a major source of opium poppies, the raw material for heroin. He said Wednesday he hopes his country can eliminate the opium production in about five or six years.

"It's bad for us. It's bad for everybody," Karzai said.

With President Bush at his side Monday, Karzai said he was hopeful that poppy production will be down 20 percent to 30 percent this year. The two men also signed a strategic partnership agreement that ensures long-term U.S. support for Afghanistan in economic, security and other sectors.

Afghanistan historically did not produce opium, Gouttierre said. It used to be a net exporter of fruits and nuts, particularly grapes, raisins, pomegranates, apples, pistachios, walnuts and almonds, he said. There also is good potential in Afghanistan for beef, lamb and chicken production, Gouttierre said.