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Rumsfeld: Major combat over in Afghanistan

Rumsfeld, left, announces an end to major combat in Afghanistan at a news conference in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Rumsfeld, left, announces an end to major combat in Afghanistan at a news conference in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

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KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Major combat in Afghanistan has ended, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday.

President Bush plans to make a similar announcement about Iraq later Thursday, the White House has announced.

Rumsfeld said that in regard to Afghanistan, Bush, U.S. Central Command Chief Tommy Franks, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai "have concluded we're at a point where we clearly have moved from major combat activity to a period of stability and stabilization and reconstruction activities. The bulk of this country today is permissive, it's secure."

Still, he added, there are dangers, and "pockets of resistance in certain parts of the country," which U.S. forces will help the Afghan government and army to deal with.

U.S. military sources said Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, where remnants of al Qaeda and the Taliban are still operating, is of particular concern.

Karzai, who sat alongside Rumsfeld, said "large numbers" of Afghans are returning to the country from around the globe.

The official word that combat is over should help pave the way for other countries to contribute forces for stability, reconstruction and humanitarian operations in the war-torn country.

Some countries have been reluctant to participate because they considered Afghanistan to be a continuing combat operation, U.S. military sources said without naming the countries. Rumsfeld's announcement, the sources said, would make that "excuse" go away.

The United States, along with some coalition countries, is helping Afghanistan build more provincial reconstruction teams, designed to help bring security and build hospitals, schools and roads, Rumsfeld said. U.S. military sources told CNN that the United States plans to place a team in each province.

Rumsfeld arrived in Kabul Thursday afternoon after a visit to Iraq to recognize the successes of the U.S. military.

He was originally scheduled to visit Kabul before his trip to Iraq, but mechanical problems with his plane forced a delay.

Elements of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps, totaling about 9,000 U.S. soldiers, are currently in Afghanistan.

Military sources said U.S. troops will continue to provide security in Afghanistan, particularly along the Pakistan border.

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