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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.

MC Andrews
Director of Global Communications

Rebuilding Afghanistan

October 15, 2004

MC Andrews

Last weekend, the Afghan people had the opportunity to vote in direct presidential elections for the first time in their history. This is an important step toward building peace and stability in Afghanistan and a great day for the advance of freedom. I look forward to taking your questions on this and other topics.

Cindy, from Killeen, Texas writes:
Soon after 91101, President Bush asked American school children and others to contribute to the mission of freeing Afghanistan. Several children at a local church made it a special mission to answer the call. What is the best way to send this donation to the White House? Thank you.

MC Andrews
I believe you are talking about the America's Fund for Afghan Children, which President Bush announced in October 2001. It has raised nearly $12 million for children in Afghanistan so far, through nearly 800,000 contributions. American children, in particular, have responded very generously by holding fund-raisers at their schools and in their communities or sending small amounts from their savings and allowances. The fund its administered by the American Red Cross, and has provided drugs, first-aid and surgical supplies, winter clothing, clean water, and school supplies to Afghan children and their families. In many cases, the school supplies were the first that Afghan children could call their own. There is more information on the Fund on the Internet at:

Donations can be sent to:

America's Fund For Afghan Children c/o The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, D.C. 20509-1600

If you send a check, please make it out to America's Fund For Afghan Children.

Jane, from Tacoma, WA writes:
Ms. Andrews,I am a music teacher for the Federal Way School District in WA state. Recently, in the faculty room, many teachers my age who have boys between the ages of 18-22 are concerned that this administration will re-instate the draft. They have read on the web about numerous plans to do so. During President Bush's speech, he kept reassuring the American people that he would not reinstate the draft. WHAT IS THIS ADMINISTRATION'S POLICY ON THIS ISSUE?

Thanks for your time. Jane I'm a Bush supporter.

MC Andrews
The President has been firm -- he does not believe that we need a draft. This has become an urban legend, but there is no truth it. Thank you for asking about this and giving us a chance to lay this rumor to rest.

Louis, from Cambridge, Ontario writes:
How does the white house feel about Canada's help in Afghanastan? Are we doing enough to help the USA?

MC Andrews
Canada has about 750 troops in Afghanistan who are making a very important contribution to the Coalition. In addition, some Canadian troops have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and that deserves recognition in both Canada and the U.S. Thank you for your contribution.

Chris, from Rancho Palos Verdes, CA writes:
What is our total troop deployment to Afghanistan, and do we have plans on increasing those levels in the near future? Also, how long do we plan to have troops in that country?

MC Andrews
America has 16,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan and our allies have nearly 12,000 troops there. They are doing an excellent job in difficult terrain. President Bush, his advisors, and the Coalition partners will make decisions on whether there need to be increases or decreases in the number of troops.

Mark, from Santa Fe writes:
What is being done about the record opium production in Afghanistan? Are the Taliban still in Afghanistan? Is it safe to travel in Afghanistan?

MC Andrews
Poppy cultivation is always a temptation in a country as poor as Afghanistan, and as we open up more economic opportunities, incentives to grow poppy should decline. Recently, however, a large group of mullahs issued a fatwa against drug cultivation.

Although poppy cultivation and opium production continue to be a problem, since October 2003 Afghan Special Narcotics Forces have destroyed 36 labs and seized over 35 tons of opiates. The U.S. will continue to support the counter-narcotics efforts of the Afghan government and the U.K.-led international program by expanding Afghan security services, providing resources the government needs to control its territory, and supporting the Afghan eradication effort aimed at reducing the 2005 opium crop.

Although there are still remnants of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Afghan people clearly voted for freedom from this former regime, and Afghanistan is moving forward. Still, travel in the country can be dangerous.

Thank you for your questions.

Katherine, from Phoenix writes:
I heard that the very first person to cast a vote was a 19-year-old female. Is this true? Also, where can one learn more about the woman who ran for president?

MC Andrews
You are correct, the first vote case was a 19 year-old female. You can learn more about the candidates and the elections by visiting This is the American NGO that sponsored a bi-partisan election observer mission. You can also visit for additional information on these important elections.

John, from Washington, DC writes:
How has the Arab media portrayed the Afghan elections? What effect, if any, do you see this portrayal as having to waylay concerns that Arabs have with respect to the upcoming Iraq elections and the USs role in Iraq.

MC Andrews
From what we have seen, Arab media have covered events in Afghanistan quite extensively, including the elections. They have shown images of Afghans standing in line to exercise their new right to vote and have transmitted interviews of Afghans expressing hope for the future and commitment to democracy. So while a few reporters have highlighted a few irregularities or anomalies in the process, or portrayed them as an American invention, the facts have gotten through. I think people in the Arab world see these elections as an example. They want democracy and believe that if Afghanistan--one of the poorest nations in the world--and have it, they can, too.

Veronica, from East Lake writes:
Can Americans travel to Afghanistan yet? When do you think we'll be able to safely?

MC Andrews
As you know, there are many Americans in Afghanistan today. For private citizens, you should keep your eye on the State Department travel advisories. They can be found at

JaMarvin, from United States writes:
Can you describe the effects of Democracy on the people in Afghanistan, who have been subject to a dictatorship?

MC Andrews
I think that it is clear that the Afghan people are thrilled to be free and hopeful for the future. Yesterday I was talking with someone who observed the elections in Afghanistan last week, and she told of tears in Afghan women's eyes when they had the chance to vote for the first time. My colleagues tell stories about how seriously the Afghans took their right to vote -- to me all the stories I am hearing are indications of how sincere the Afghan people are about taking control of their own future.

Sylvester, from Fort Drum, NY writes:
Mr. President, I am a spc. in the US Army, and I would just like to let you know that I have never been more proud to serve my country than at this very moment. I deployed to Afghanistan for 10 months, and I volunteered to go to Iraq because I believe in the cause and your judgment. Please do not allow rhetoric to sway your convictions our prayers are with you.

God Bless you Sir, and God Bless America.

MC Andrews
On behalf of President Bush, thank you for your contribution to making America more secure and to helping the people of Afghanistan achieve freedom. The elections in Afghanistan last weekend were a milestone on the path to a bright future for all Afghans. As you know from your experiences, the Afghan people are so proud of the strides they have made toward peace and freedom in just the past two years.

James, from South Windsor, CT writes:
Re: America's Fund for Afghan Children This past summer my son organized a car wash with his boy scout troop, to benifit the children of Afghanistan. They raised $296.00.

On June 14, 2004 I sent a Bank check to the following address: America's fund for Afghan Children 1600 Pennsylvania Ave Washington, DC 20509-1600

The check has not been cashed.

Has the address changed, program discontinued?

I can have a new check sent if it just got lost.

MC Andrews
All mail coming to the White House goes through a screening process for security reasons, and we know that there have been a few cases in which mail sent to America's Fund for Afghan Children has been delayed for an unusual period of time. With the millions of pieces of mail we receive each year, I suppose it is inevitable that some are delayed.

We will try to find your check and get back to you as soon as we have any information. Thanks for bringing this matter to our attention. That money is needed in Afghanistan, and we want to be sure we find it and get it to the Red Cross. And thank you and your son's troop for joining the President in supporting the people of Afghanistan.

Cary, from Burlington writes:
Miss Andrews How do you change the culture over there? I'm thrilled that the first person to vote was a woman -- but women are looked at as so inferior still. How can this be overcome?

It's very sad.


MC Andrews
Today women in Afghanistan have more rights than they did three years ago, including the right to vote, access to health care, and education. The situation is surely not perfect, but it gets better every day.

Democracy in Afghanistan will never look like it does in America, Albania, or Argentina. But it will develop with its own cultural nuances. From what I understand, Afghan women are determined to enhance their own freedoms, and with a democratic system in place, they now have that chance.

Terrence, from Wilport writes:
M.C. I'm happy to see reforms are being made in Afghanistan. But it looks like an uphill battle as well. What specific reforms are positioning Afghanistan to become a modern democracy?

MC Andrews
There are many reforms in Afghanistan, and to read more about them, please visit:

Tray, from Smith writes:
Does Afganistan have a public school system? Did they before the Taliban, and if so what improvements have we made.

MC Andrews
Afghanistan did have a public schools system before and still does today. Here are some facts on education in Afghanistan.

In 2000, only about 32 percent of school-age children were enrolled in school, and an overwhelming 97 percent of the country's girls did not attend school at all. By the end of Taliban rule, 80 percent of existing schools were either severely damaged or destroyed. Today, the situation has improved dramatically:

The U.S. printed and distributed 25,631,000 textbooks in Dari and Pashtu for the 2002 and 2003 school years, contributing to tremendous growth in school enrollment. In 2004, 16 million textbooks have arrived in the capital, and nearly 10 million have already been distributed throughout the country.

Enrollment grew from approximately 1 million children in 2001 to 3 million in 2002 to an estimated 4.8 million in 2004, the largest number in the history of Afghanistan. Accelerated learning is now underway in 17 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, taking in over 170,000 students.

Over 7,900 teachers have been trained, including 1,600 primary teachers during the 2002 school year (74 percent of whom were women) and 1,500 in 2003. Thirty thousand teachers received teacher-supply kits for the 2002 school year.

Since March 2002, 50,000 Afghan teachers have been receiving an in-kind salary supplement in the form of vegetable oil, a valued commodity in Afghanistan. The supplement represents 26 percent of their monthly income.

Jason, from Charleston, West Virginia writes:
Do you think that the capture of Osama Bin Laden by U.S. forces will heighten political tension and tension in general in Afghanistan or relax the tensions in the war torn country?

MC Andrews
We have to pursue bin Laden and his followers regardless, but I would say that anything that weakens al Qaeda and the Taliban, including the capture of bin Laden, will reduce political tension. The Afghan people overwhelmingly reject the Taliban and al Qaeda. The bad guys still have some supporters, but as they become weaker, average Afghans will become even bolder.

Jason, from Chicago writes:
In Baghdad internet cafe's are opening up, why is this not happening in Afghanistan?

MC Andrews
Iraq is a more developed country. In Iraq, higher literacy rates, steadier sources of electricity to operate computers, and more familiarity with modern technology join together to create a better climate for the internet cafes.

I am sure, with better education and more developed infrastructure, over the next couple of years, the Afghans will quickly catch up.

Micah, from Yelm, WA writes:
My question is when are we going to pull our troops out of afghanistan?

MC Andrews
President Bush is committed both to fighting the war on terror and helping the Afghan people develop a stable democracy. Both are critical for America's security, so our troops--which currently number about 16,000--will probably be in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. We are joined in Afghanistan by 40 other countries, and NATO has taken on a major security role--its first outside Europe. Our troops and our allies are helping training a new Afghan army and police force, pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban remnants, and providing security for the development of civil society, the consolidation of democratic government, and the establishment of viable economy. All of this will make our country more secure by preventing Afghanistan from becoming a haven for terrorists. President Bush has promised the Afghan people that we would not abandon them. Their lives are far better since the fall of the Taliban--2.4 million Afghan refugees have returned home--and they overwhelmingly welcome us and our allies.

Jasmin, from Germany writes:
What kind of attitude do the people in Afghanistan have towards the American government and military?

MC Andrews
I hear so many stories -- ranging from colleagues who were in Afghanistan for the elections to my cousin who served in the U.S. Army there -- that the Afghan people are thankful for America's contribution to their freedom and development in their country.

Bill, from Gastonia, NC writes:
Why does the UN not furnish more troops for Afganistan?What percentage of the troops are French, German and Russian?

What is the position of Pakistan with regard to the border between it and Afganistan?

MC Andrews
In closing, I can't resist answering a question from my home town.

Our coalition partners—about 40 countries in all—have deployed some 11,600 personnel to Afghanistan, making up over 40 percent of the 28,400 non-Afghan forces in the country. NATO is leading the International Security Assistance Force, which is providing security in the country. France is there, and Germany is playing a major role in training Afghan police. Other countries, like New Zealand, Italy, and Japan, are also making major contributions. Russia does not have forces in Afghanistan. Given the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1970s and 80s, the presence of Russian troops was not acceptable to the Afghan people, and maybe not to the Russian people, either.

Pakistan is cooperating with us in pursuing al Qaeda and Taliban remnants along the border, but the support that the Taliban have among many people in those border areas makes the job difficult.

Thank you for the question.

MC Andrews
Thank you for your questions. I enjoyed being with you today on Ask the White House.

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