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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Kurt Amend
Director for Afghanistan, National Security Council

December 19, 2005

Kurt Amend
My name is Kurt Amend, and I am the Director for Afghanistan on the staff of the National Security Council. It's a pleasure to join you today in a discussion of Afghanistan where, for the first time in decades, a new National Assembly has been inaugurated.

Davita, from Seattle writes:
Mr. Amend,I was interested in finding out more about the reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. What concrete projects and programs have been initiated? How well have they fared? Is there a website with current information on the status of projects in the country?

Thank you. Knowing what has been accomplished makes it possible for Americans to help determine the most important ways to help rebuild the country and its people.


Kurt Amend
I agree that Americans should better understand U.S. assistance efforts in Afghanistan - they contribute directly to Afghan security and stability and help ensure that Afghanistan will never again be used as a safe haven for international terrorists.

Since late 2001, the United States has actively pursued a wide range of reconstruction programs in education, health, agriculture, democracy and governance, infrastructure, the media, and more. Several notable projects include the refurbished Kabul to Kandahar stretch of the "Ring Road" (completed in December 2003), hundreds of rebuilt schools that facilitate instruction to five million Afghan boys and girls (up from 900,000 in 2001), and assistance to farms that has helped double agricultural output in four years. It is important to keep in mind that, in some parts of Afghanistan, the term "reconstruction" is a misnomer. Decades of civil war and violence reduced infrastructure and basic services to almost nothing. Thus, "construction" might be a better way to look at what we are doing in Afghanistan, a challenging process that will take time.

USAID has an excellent website on U.S. Government assistance programs in Afghanistan. Try and click on the "Assistance to Afghanistan" icon on the left.

Daniel, from Chicago, Illinois writes:
Do the people of Afghanistan view our troops as "occupiers" in a war that can never end, or do they see troops as helping to rebuild and minimize the efficacy of terror?

Kurt Amend
Our sense, based on public opinion polls, is that the Afghan people continue to support the presence of international forces in Afghanistan. They look to the United States and other countries with forces in Afghanistan to contribute to security, support improvements in local governance, and facilitate reconstruction efforts. Afghan popular support is essential to the achievement of our objectives in Afghanistan, and thus we need to ensure that we continue to meet, as best we can, the expectations of our Afghan hosts.

Chris, from North Carolina writes:
What will a new Afghan National Assembly mean for the U.S. at home, and how could it affect the presence of the U.S. in the Middle East? Thank you for this opportunity.

Kurt Amend
Today's inauguration of the Afghan National Assembly is one step in the steady transition to democracy of a country that little more than four years ago suffered in darkness and under the despotic rule of the Taliban.

Afghanistan's liberation and subsequent political development have allowed some 25 million people the opportunity to shape their political futures. They have done just that in a manner that has been, with very few exceptions, peaceful and without violence. As such, Afghanistan serves as a powerful model - a beacon for democratic reformers around the world.

And thank you for asking.

Randy, from Georgia writes:
What progress is being made in Afganistan to provide the type of economic infrastructure that can make the country a positive asset to itself and other nations.

Kurt Amend
You raise an important issue. If we and the Afghans are to succeed in so many other areas - security, disarmament, and counter-narcotics, to name several - we need to succeed in building a sound, legal economy that provides opportunities for the common Afghan.

Here our approach is to help the Afghan Government by designing and implementing economic policies that are sustainable, transparent and predictable. We aim to strengthen economic governance in the public sector, build capacity and nurture an environment that promotes private sector growth, produces jobs, and raises income.

This is being done in a variety of ways. The U.S. Government has programs in customs reform, central bank reform, land titling (to increase the level of predictability for would be businessmen and investors), privatization of state-owned enterprises, construction of industrial parks, and private sector development. We are also building roads that facilitate the flow of commerce, helping to bring power to the Afghan people, and developing the agricultural sector.

At the same time we are supporting the Afghan Government as it seeks to integrate itself more tightly into its regional (i.e., South and Central Asia) economy. On December 4 - 5 of this year, the Afghan Government hosted an important conference that explored practical means for Afghanistan to increase economic cooperation with its neighbors. We see improved transportation, trade, energy, and communication links as vital to overall regional stability and security.

Nicole, from Seattle writes:
How many members will be in the Afghan National Assembly?

Kurt Amend
The National Assembly consists of a 249-person lower house (Wolesi Jirga or "House of the People") and a 102-person upper house (Meshrano Jirga or "House of Elders"). Members serve from three to five years.

Navi, from Burlingame, CA writes:
Why do we not hear about the great things going on in Afganistan e.g. schools and school enrollments, state of their economy and how other countries like India are helping in re-buildiing Afganistan?Many thanks.

Kurt Amend
Regrettably, media reports too often focus on negative events that have a short life span when, in fact, a number of positive, lasting developments are underway in Afghanistan.

Today.s inauguration of the new Afghan National Assembly is a wonderful example of such a development. This historic event was made possible by the sacrifice and hard work of U.S. and Coalition forces, Afghans, and other individuals from the international community who translated the vision of a new Afghanistan (contained in the December 2001 Bonn Agreement) into a reality. (You should know that India, in addition to assistance in other areas, is building a new Parliament building.) We are contributing positively in other areas, as well: education, health, roads, the development of Afghan security forces, counter-narcotics, and more. Through U.S.-funded programs we are helping the Afghan people and Afghan Government make the difficult transition to a representative democracy, a positive story that I think ought to feature more prominently in our 24-hours a day, globally connected news cycles.

You may wish to consult the following web sites for additional news on developments in Afghanistan:

Greg, from Chesterfield,VA writes:
Do you believe that we are making progress in Afghanistan? Will we ever find Bin Laden and charge him with crimes like we are doing to Saddam?Thank you

Kurt Amend
We have made tremendous progress helping the Afghan people adopt a constitution, elect a president and national assembly, train and equip an army, disarm former combatants, and more. That said, there are difficult challenges ahead. The illegal drug trade is having a pernicious effect on Afghan society, governance, and the economy. Violence levels stemming from armed criminal gangs, the drug lords, and insurgents are still high in certain areas. We need to build on the progress made to date, and think of ways we can be more effective in assisting the Afghan Government to meet these challenges.

As a senior U.S. military officer recently said, U.S. forces will not rest until Osama bin Ladin is captured or killed.

Jinesh, from Princeton, NJ writes:
Mr. Amend, What is the United States military currently doing to assist the new Afghan government in disarming tribal militias and stabilizing and creating a larger sense of national unity within the nation? Also, what measures is the United States taking to assist the Afghanistani government in tackling the trafficking of drugs throughout Afghanistan?

Kurt Amend
Since April 2002, the United States has led the effort to help build a new Afghan National Army. From its starting point in May of that year, the U.S. military has trained and equipped a total of 26,800 (out of a goal of 70,000) Afghan troops, a considerable number of which have deployed successfully on combat operations with Coalition forces. The new Afghan army is ethnically and regionally balanced and reflective of the Afghan Government's desire to establish new state institutions that rise above the ethnic, regional, factional and sectarian differences of the past.

On drugs, you raise an important issue. The United States is helping the Afghan Government combat the illegal drug trade through the implementation of a five-pronged strategy that focuses on interdiction, poppy elimination, judicial reform, public information, and providing alternative livelihoods. Here, as elsewhere in Afghanistan, it is possible to see positive results in the near term - e.g., the recent extradition of accused Afghan drug kingpin Hajji Baz Mohammad to the United States, or the overall reduction in poppy cultivation from 2004 to 2005 - while other components of the strategy (like helping to rebuild the judiciary) may take longer.

For more specific information about U.S. military contributions to Afghan security, you may wish to review a transcript of recent remarks by the senior U.S. military official in Afghanistan.

zoe, from Centerville, IN. writes:
Director Amend:Could you share informatin regarding the advancement of civil rights for women in Afghanistan in 2005. Are there any important changes expected for 2006? Thank you for your service.

Kurt Amend
Zoe, at the top of my list for 2005 is the election of 87 women members to the new, 351-person National Assembly, 68 in the lower house and 19 in the upper house. They are talented, well-prepared, and clearly anxious to participate in Afghanistan's political life. Women's contributions to the political realm don't end here, though. Women have served and are serving as ministers in President Karzai's government and a woman is the governor of Bamiyan province, one of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

Looking ahead, I would encourage you to follow the influence of these female legislators on the political process. I expect it to be considerable and positive.

Joel, from Superior, WI writes:
Mr. Amend, What is Afghanistan going to do to combat terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda, that operate inside of their country?

Kurt Amend
Joel, since early 2002 the United States and other members of the Coalition have been helping to train and equip Afghan security forces so that they can defend Afghan territory, police Afghanistan's lengthy borders, and ensure that terrorist groups are not able to operate inside of Afghanistan. Afghan forces have deployed successfully in support of combat and stability operations and their capabilities are improving.

Jack, from Murphy writes:
What is our main goal in Afganistan? What have we completed so far toward that goal?

Kurt Amend
Jack, for several years now we have been pursuing a set of broad strategic goals in Afghanistan. They can be distilled to the following: To help Afghan leaders and the Afghan people establish a government that is moderate, stable and democratic; representative of all responsible political elements in the country and formed through the participation of the Afghan people; capable of effectively controlling and governing its territory; capable of implementing policies to stimulate economic and social development; and willing to contribute to a continuing partnership with the Coalition in the global war on terrorism.

Elsewhere in today's "Ask the White House" session I have touched upon some of the areas where we have made good progress in Afghanistan. To these I would add that the international terrorist infrastructure that gave rise to the attacks on 9/11 no longer exists. Senior Taliban and al-Qa'ida leaders who once exploited Afghan soil for their lethal designs are on the run or in hiding. The Afghan people have adopted a constitution, held two major elections, and, today, inaugurated a new parliament, all the while resolving their political differences not through force but through negotiation and compromise. And, with our support, they are rebuilding their country. While significant challenges loom ahead, I think we have made considerable headway.

Nic, from PRC writes:
Sir, Thank you very much for your time. I am very curious as to what the political situation is right now Aghanistan. Is there a significant problem with terrorists, as in Iraq? Does the future look stable?

Sincerely, Nic

Kurt Amend
Nic, Coalition operations that began October 7, 2001, led to the eviction of the Taliban from power and the destruction of support and logistical networks that allowed international terrorists to operate freely on Afghan soil. They no longer can use Afghanistan as a safe haven.

Today's inauguration heralds a new era in Afghanistan's history. Afghan men and women from across the country met in Kabul to discuss their views, pursue disparate political agendas, and represent their constituencies through compromise and negotiation, the life blood of a democracy. I rate the political situation in Afghanistan right now as quite good.

Kurt Amend
I'm afraid we've run out of time. I want to thank all of you for the excellent, thought-provoking questions you posed today. Afghanistan's success remains a high priority for the President and his Administration. While the road ahead will present challenges, the President is committed to ensuring that all Afghan citizens can live in a free and democratic state. I hope our session together has been helpful.

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