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Senior Afghan Delegation Completes Visit to Washington

A delegation of senior Afghan officials visited Washington from February 23-27 for high-level meetings with senior officials in the Obama administration and discussions with their Pakistani counterparts. The meetings were part of a strategic review of U.S. policy towards the region and underlined a new spirit of cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the fight against terrorism.

The delegation was led by Foreign Minister Dr. Rangin D. Spanta and included Minister of Defense General Abdul Rahim Wardak, Minister of the Interior Mohammad Hanif Atmar, National Security Advisor Dr. Zalmay Rassoul, Director of National Intelligence Amerullah Saleh, Director of the Independent Directorate on Local Governance Jelani Popal and Ambassador Said T. Jawad.

During the visit the delegation met with members of the Obama administration including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, National Security Advisor James Jones and Special Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke to discuss the strategic review of U.S. policy towards Afghanistan. Members of the delegation also met with members of Congress and the leadership of key congressional committee such as the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The trip included a bilateral meeting between Foreign Minister Spanta and his Pakistani counterpart and a trilateral meeting between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S.

In meetings with U.S. officials, the Afghan delegation stressed the importance of an increased focus on security, both through a surge of U.S. troops and a continued expansion of Afghan security forces; the continued building of state institutions and capacities; and additional resources for sustainable development programs. The delegation also highlighted the need to approach the fight against terrorism in a regional context.

In meetings with their Pakistani counterparts, the Afghan delegation engaged in detailed discussions on how to increase cooperation in the fight against terrorism. Foreign Minister Spanta noted that relations between the civilian government of President Asif Ali Zardari and President Hamid Karzai were closer than they had ever been before, but that additional commitment is necessary to defeat the terrorist threat.

Each of the ministers participated in different speaking engagements at local think tanks. At the Center of American Progress, Foreign Minister Spanta stressed the importance of supporting Afghanistan's nascent democracy. He also warned against reducing expectations for the country's progress, noting that in the last seven years significant advances have been made in education, health and women's rights.

At the Brookings Institution, Interior Minister Atmar outlined steps being taken to improve the Afghan National Police and cut down on corruption. He also provided details on the emerging Afghan Public Protection Force, a new security initiative that would train local communities to provide security for roads and infrastructure. Minister Atmar stressed that the force would be trained, uniformed and under the control of the Ministry of Interior.

In an event hosted by the Center for a New American Security, Defense Minister Wardak outlined steps being taken to improve security in 2009. Beyond a surge of U.S. troops, he highlighted the growth of the Afghan National Army (ANA) as a positive step. Now approaching 80,000 troops, the ANA will reach 134,000 troops in 2010, two years ahead of schedule. Minister Wardak noted that the ANA has emerged as a capable fighting force, with violence dropping in Kabul since it took charge of security operations in August 2008.

In order to further exchanges between the U.S. and Afghanistan, the delegation announced that they would meet with U.S. officials again in the coming months.

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