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Rumsfeld in surprise Afghan visit

Karzai: 'We are assured of continuing U.S. support'

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(CNN) -- Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Wednesday said a planned reduction of U.S. troops in his country did not concern him.

Karzai's comments came during a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan.

"We are assured of the continuing U.S. support," Karzai said. "I don't think it will have an impact on the situation on the ground."

Earlier, Rumsfeld said he had authorized a reduction of U.S. troops in Afghanistan from 19,000 to 16,000, largely because of an increase in NATO troops there.

Asked whether the United States operates secret prisons in Afghanistan, Rumsfeld replied, "Not to my knowledge."

In response to another question, Rumsfeld, who was having difficulties with his translation device, said: "If the question is, are we supporting human right violators and offenders, the answer is no."

He said he was in Afghanistan to thank U.S. troops. "It seems to me a perfectly appropriate thing to do," he said.

The visit came after Rumsfeld spent Tuesday touring different U.S. military outposts in Pakistan, including facilities set up to aid victims of the October 2 earthquake that killed more than 70,000 people in Pakistan.

At a makeshift medical facility, Rumsfeld praised U.S. soldiers for the work they are doing, noting they are away from their families at the holidays. He also met with Australian troops in Pakistan.

Because Rumsfeld was running behind schedule, a planned meeting with Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan staff at Camp Eggers was canceled.

He boarded a UH-60 helicopter and headed straight for the presidential palace to meet with Karzai. The defense secretary will overnight at Bagram Air Base, officials said.

Vice President Dick Cheney also visited Pakistan this week.

On Tuesday, Rumsfeld told reporters en route to Pakistan via Shannon, Ireland, that capturing Osama bin Laden is still a priority of the U.S. government, but would not speculate on whether the al Qaeda leader is still alive.

"I think it is interesting that we haven't heard from him in a year, close to a year," he said.

"I don't know what it means. I suspect that in any event if he's alive and functioning that he's probably spending a major fraction of his time trying to avoid being caught.

"I have trouble believing that he's able to operate sufficiently to be in a position of major command over a worldwide al Qaeda operation, but I could be wrong. We just don't know."

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