Karzai: 'A Long Road Ahead'

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (search) worked both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue on Tuesday, first telling Congress there was "a long road ahead" for his country and then meeting with President Bush at the White House.

Bush, in a joint news conference in the Rose Garden, praised Karzai for this stewardship and laid out a five-point plan for continued U.S. support for Afghanistan. Karzai took power after the United States launched a war against Afghan's Taliban (search) leadership following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America.

"Coalition forces, including many brave Afghans, have brought America, Afghanistan and the free world its first victory in the War on Terror.  Afghanistan is no longer a terrorist factory sending thousands of killers into the world," Bush said.

Bush said the United States, which in recent months has increased its force in Afghanistan to about 20,000 troops, is helping to build the new Afghan national army and train new Afghan police and border patrol. Moreover, Bush said the United States is: helping foster democracy by training newly elected politicians, expanding culture and education exchange programs, pursing bilateral trade and investment; working to print new textbooks and build schools for both boys and girls, and is providing small business grants to women.

Karzai thanked Bush for U.S. support and pledged that Afghanistan would be a strong ally in the terror fight.

"We are looking forward in this relationship to a stronger relationship and I'm sure the United States will remain committed to Afghanistan," Karzai said.

Before going to the White House, Karzai went before Congress to thank the United States for its nearly three-year-long counterterror campaign in his country and asked for continued help.

"I thank you and the people of this great country for your generosity and commitment to our people," Karzai said. "You have supported us with your resources, with your leadership in the world community and, most importantly, with the precious lives of your soldiers."

In a 20-minute speech to members of the House and Senate gathered in the House chamber, Karzai said: "Afghanistan has emerged from a very dark era ... one of oppression and terror."

The speech was interrupted by applause more than a dozen times.

Since U.S., Afghan and other coalition forces ousted the repressive Taliban regime that harbored Al Qaeda (search) terrorists, international efforts have helped improve schools, health care and roads as well as start training a new national army. The country also is preparing for elections.

But Karzai added that there is "a long road ahead."

"We must build a partnership that will consolidate our achievements and enhance stability, prosperity and democracy in Afghanistan and in the region," he said. "This requires sustaining and accelerating the reconstruction of Afghanistan through long-term commitment."

Karzai said that includes a free trade agreement between the two countries and incentives to the private sector for investing in Afghanistan. A day earlier, Karzai said he is satisfied that the Bush administration has remained focused on helping stabilize his country, but he wants NATO to do more.

"To fulfill the promise that we have been made, we are hoping that NATO will come to Afghanistan before the elections of September," he said Monday at a news conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

NATO already is commanding the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, the Afghan capital, as well as a reconstruction operation in the northern city of Kunduz. The alliance has pledged to expand its security operations to cities elsewhere in the war-torn country this summer.

Karzai and Rumsfeld addressed reporters beside a memorial plaque on a section of the Pentagon's western wall, where American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building on Sept. 11, 2001, killing all 64 aboard the hijacked plane and 125 people in the building.

Asked about the chances of capturing Usama bin Laden, whose Al Qaeda network is blamed for the attacks on New York and Washington, Rumsfeld said he was certain he would be caught eventually. Karzai said bin Laden was on the run and could not stay hidden indefinitely.

"Has a fugitive run forever? No, at least not in my country," he said. "We will catch him one day, sooner or later."

Karzai, who is president by vote of a loya jirga, or grand council, under traditional Afghan practice, is running for the presidency in the September election against a number of challengers.

He said he was satisfied that the U.S. government has remained focused on its commitment to help Afghanistan establish a national government and to rebuild from years of war.

"We would not be having a specific request for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan," he said. "The United States is already busy in Afghanistan helping us in reconstruction and helping us fight terrorism and helping us secure our borders."

The United States in recent months has increased its force in Afghanistan, which now stands at about 20,000 troops.

Karzai seemed to hint at being weary of the heavy U.S. military presence in his country. As a helicopter flew overhead, prompting Karzai to interrupt his opening remarks, he said with a smile while pointing to the sky, "You see that too often in Afghanistan."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.