President Bush, on an unannounced visit to Afghanistan, said Wednesday he remains confident Osama bin Laden “will be brought to justice” despite a so-far futile five-year hunt.
Bush also suggested that the United States and India, where he was headed next, have still not reached a deal over U.S. help for India’s civilian nuclear program.
“People all over the world are watching the experience here in Afghanistan,” Bush said as he stood side-by-side with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Amid extremely tight security, Bush made the surprise visit in Afghanistan at the onset of a scheduled visit to India and Pakistan.
“It’s a thrill to come to a country which is dedicating itself to the dignity of every person who lives here,” Bush said.
For his part, Karzai greeted Bush as “our great friend, our great supporter, a man who helped us liberate.”
Asked about the search for bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in the United States, and of the president’s call for getting him “dead or alive,” Bush said the search for bin Laden and his associates continues.
“It’s not a matter of if they’re brought to justice, it’s when they’re brought to justice,” Bush said.
Eight weeks ago when Bush signed off on the India-Pakistan visit he was presented with the option of also going to Afghanistan, said White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
The White House closely guarded the secret, but there had been widespread speculation that he would make the stop in Afghanistan.
“This is an opportunity to show our support for a good friend and ally and emerging democracy,” McClellan said. “We stand firmly with the people of Afghanistan as they are charting their own future.”
Pep talk to troops
While Bush and Karzai met, their wives, Laura Bush and Zinat Karzai met over lunch with other women.
Bush also was to preside over a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the U.S. Embassy. Before leaving Afghanistan, Bush was to give a pep talk to troops back at Bagram Air Base.
It was Bush’s second visit to a war front. His first was a secret trip to have Thanksgiving Dinner in 2003 with U.S. troops in Iraq.
The United States invaded Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, to unseat the Taliban regime that harbored bin Laden and his terrorist training camps.
First trip to Afghanistan
The president and his wife Laura stepped off Air Force One at the air base under a bright, sunny sky against a background of snowcapped mountains. Secret Service agents were deployed around the plane with automatic weapons.
There are about 19,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said the number will be reduced to about 16,000 by summer.
It was Bush’s first trip to Afghanistan, but Vice President Dick Cheney has been here.
During a refueling stop in Ireland, Bush shook hands and posed for pictures with U.S. Marines on their way to Kuwait. The young men, in camouflage uniforms, lined up to shake hands with the commander in chief.