KABUL, Afghanistan – Vice President Dick Cheney celebrated a milestone in Afghanistan's transition to democracy Monday, watching from the front row while its national assembly took its first oath of office.
Cheney did not speak at the ceremony but signified the event's importance to the White House simply by attending.
The vice president's somewhat chaotic arrival in Kabul marked the second day he had brought attention to important democratic events that have stemmed from the Bush administration's hawkish foreign policy.
On Sunday, Cheney made an unannounced trip to Iraq to highlight last week's parliamentary elections there. In Kabul, he attended the inauguration of the politically diverse 249-seat assembly, Afghanistan's first elected parliament in more than three decades.
"The victory of freedom in Afghanistan as well as Iraq will be an inspiration to democratic reformers in other lands," Cheney said in a speech to troops at Bagram Air Base.
At the parliament, Cheney and his wife, Lynne, sat in the front row to the left of a speakers' podium. Along with two other U.S. representatives — Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann and coalition commander Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry — Cheney listened through an earpiece to an English translation of the speakers' remarks.
After the ceremony Cheney signed a guest book, writing, "It's a privilege to be present on this historic day for the people of Afghanistan."
Cheney then had lunch with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at his presidential palace. The vice president was greeted by two dozen Afghan soldiers standing at attention as he and Karzai shook hands for the cameras.
Asked what the day meant, Karzai said: "It means progress. It means achievement. It means togetherness."
Later Monday, Cheney addressed hundreds of U.S. troops at Bagram and got a briefing from Eikenberry.
The vice president is on a five-day tour aimed at strengthening support for the war on terror. He also planned to visit key allies in Oman, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
The Cheneys' seven-hour visit to Afghanistan began when their unmarked C-17 cargo plane landed at Bagram Air Base. They then flew by helicopter to a spot outside the parliament building. The chopper stirred up a massive dust storm, but the Cheneys were shielded when they ducked into a black sport-utility vehicle.
Security forces surrounded the Cheneys' vehicle and walked along as it moved with their hands on the side of the vehicle. A gun-toting Afghan soldier dressed in fatigues pushed the rest of Cheney's entourage against an outside wall until the gates to the parliament building closed behind them.
Afghan security forces insisted on searching all the bags carried by members of Cheney's staff and the press who were left outside. Secret Service agents objected, saying they had already been checked. A White House advance staffer already on site came out and angrily demanded that the Afghans admit military aides carrying the briefcase that contains the U.S. government's nuclear weapon codes.
"I'm telling you to open the gates now," the White House staffer said. "These are the vice president's military aides."
The Afghans allowed Cheney's military aides through but insisted on doing complete body searches of the rest of his traveling party. Men were searched outside in a dusty courtyard, while women were taken in a small room and searched completely by hand by Afghan women.