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Rumsfeld meets with Karzai in Afghanistan

Rumsfeld talks with Karzai in Kabul on Saturday.
Rumsfeld talks with Karzai in Kabul on Saturday.  

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met Saturday with Afghanistan's interim leader Hamid Karzai and said the United States would participate in an international trust fund to help build a new Afghan army.

As well as discussing how to bring security and stability to Afghanistan with Karzai, he stopped at Bagram Air Base to visit some of the 6,000 U.S. and coalition forces serving in the region.

Rumsfeld, on his second visit to Afghanistan since the U.S.-led war on terrorism began, told them that he was glad to be back in "free Afghanistan." He also said that while Afghanistan was the first theater in the war on terrorism, "It won't be the last."

After meeting with Karzai, Rumsfeld told reporters that the United States would join other countries in creating the international fund to pay for building an Afghan army and providing training to its soldiers. France and an international peacekeeping force already on the ground in Kabul will help with the training, he said.

"Development of a national army is not an easy task," he said. "There will be U.S. money that will be freed up in the immediate future to begin that process in May. What will evolve will be a fund that will help to develop and then sustain for a period an Afghan national army."

CNN's Bill Delaney has more on U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Afghanistan (April 27)

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Karzai has previously called for expansion of the international peacekeeping forces to areas outside of Kabul with U.S. participation, which the United States and its anti-terrorism allies have resisted. But Karzai said Saturday that establishing a strong national army -- which he said would include all of the country's ethnic groups -- could be an effective alternative.

"I would rather be inclined to see the United States train for Afghanistan a good, strong national army so that we can in the future fend for our own," he said. "If we can get our own national army ... why would we ask for an increase of foreign troops' presence in Afghanistan?"

Rumsfeld was also asked about reports that U.S. Special Forces troops are operating inside Pakistan to hunt down Taliban and al Qaeda suspects who may have crossed the border. He refused to discuss the reports, other than to describe the Pakistanis as "enormously cooperative."

Rumsfeld said U.S. policy is to let other countries characterize for themselves what sort of assistance they may be providing to the United States.

"We have situations around the world where, for whatever reason, countries prefer to characterize what they're doing and what they're allowing other countries to do," he said. "It has been a good policy, it's been our policy from Day One, it's working very well, and I'm quite comfortable with it."

The tenuous security situation was highlighted by a rocket attack Friday night at Kabul's airport before Rumsfeld's arrival. At least three Chinese-made rockets were fired toward the airport, two of which landed inside the airport's perimeter where international peacekeepers were on patrol.

At least one of the rockets detonated, but no one was injured, and the target was not immediately clear, according to officials with the peacekeeping force.

CNN Correspondent Bill Delaney and CNN Producers Lonzo Cook and Ryan Chilcote contributed to this report.




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