The new president of Afghanistan told Congress on Wednesday that his country appreciates “the bravery of your soldiers and the tremendous sacrifices that Americans have made to keep Afghanistan free.”
President Ashraf Ghani was given a warm reception as he spoke to a joint session. He praised President Barack Obama for a “clear and disciplined approach to American engagement” and for withdrawing more than 100,000 American troops “without a hitch.”
He invoked Sept. 11 and vowed: “Never again will our country be host to terrorists. Never again will we give extremists sanctuary to plan their destructive plots.”
Ghani spoke one day after Obama announced that the United States will keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through the end of the year, a shift from a previous plan to cut the number to 5,500.
Ghani’s speech to Congress was meant to open a new chapter in U.S.-Afghan relations. His predecessor, President Hamid Karzai, had a rocky relationship with the White House that complicated what was already America’s longest war.
Ghani said that Afghanistan has joined a “new consensus” of countries in the Middle East that rejects intolerance, extremism and war.
He also spent a fair amount of time in his speech on women’s and girls’ rights.
He recalled that there were no girls in Afghan schools on Sept. 10, 2001, compared with 3 million today. He vowed not to let rape and harassment go unpunished. He beamed as he talked of Afghan girls picking up “the ancient art of skateboarding.”
The new Afghan leader drew on personal connections to the United States. He mentioned his degree from Columbia University and spoke of eating corned beef at Katz’s delicatessen, “New York’s greatest, greasiest, pickle-lined melting pot.”
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