At Pentagon, Afghan president thanks US troops

World Today

Secretary of State John Kerry escorts Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani after arriving for a day of meetings at the Camp David Presidential retreat, Monday, March 23, 2015, in Camp David, Md. The pace of U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan will headline Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s visit to Washington, yet America’s exit from the war remains tightly hinged to the abilities of the Afghan forces that face a tough fight against insurgents this spring. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Afghanistan’s president thanked U.S. troops and taxpayers for their sacrifices in nearly 14 years of war, kicking off his visit to Washington with a stop at the Pentagon. He pledged that his impoverished country will not remain a burden to the West.

“We do not now ask what the United States can do for us,” Ashraf Ghani said in remarks meant to bolster the Obama administration’s conviction that Ghani is a reliable partner worth supporting over the long term.

“We want to say what Afghanistan will do for itself and for the world,” he added. “And that means we are going to put our house in order.”

Ghani’s relationship with Washington stands in stark contrast to that of his predecessor, Hamid Karzai, whose antagonism toward the U.S. culminated in a refusal to sign security agreements with Washington and NATO before leaving office last year. Ghani signed the pacts within days of becoming president in September, and has since enjoyed a close relationship with American diplomats and military leaders.

Ghani and his chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, were welcomed by Defense Secretary Ash Carter at a ceremony in the Pentagon’s center courtyard.

It was a poignant setting for the start of Ghani’s visit. On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked an American Airlines jetliner and flew it into the Pentagon, killing all aboard and 125 people in the building. The U.S. responded to the attacks on Washington and New York’s World Trade Center by invading Afghanistan a month later, beginning the longest war in American history.

After the ceremonial welcoming, Ghani and Abdullah headed to the Camp David presidential retreat for closed door meetings with Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry. Later in the week Ghani is to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House and address a joint meeting of Congress.

On their arrival at Camp David, Kerry said they were meeting in seclusion to discuss Afghanistan’s future. Ghani emphasized what he called a new phase of the U.S.-Afghan relationship.

“It’s time for Afghanistan to reciprocate the gift that the United States has so generously provided over the years,” he said. “Reciprocating the gift means owning our problems, solving them and asking of ourselves what we must do for ourselves and for the region.”

Report by The Associated Press.