By Donna Miles
Nov. 21, 2006 – Afghanistan's defense minister thanked the United States today for its steadfast support for his country, specifically recognizing the U.S. troops who have served and sacrificed there and outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak told Pentagon reporters Afghanistan is indebted to the United States for the progress it's made during the past five years. "These achievements would not have been possible without the advice, guidance and generous support we have received from the United States," he said.
Wardak gave special thanks to Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan, who joined him at the podium, as well as Rumsfeld, whom he met with before today's news conference.
"Secretary Rumsfeld has been a great support of the Afghan cause as a whole," he said. "He played a fundamental role in delivering Afghanistan from years of destruction, occupation and civil war."
Afghanistan as a nation "has all the love, respect and admiration for him," Wardak said of Rumsfeld. "He founded a security relationship that will endure, and we have every intention to build on those relations."
Wardak expressed "the profound and everlasting gratitude of the Afghan government and people for everything the United States government and people are doing to help deliver Afghanistan from years of terror and destruction."
The Afghan defense minister also recognized the U.S. forces who have served in Afghanistan, noting the commitment they have shown and the sacrifices they have made.
"They are representing your great nation proudly and demonstrating the high standards of service and professionalism," he said. "I pray that their sacrifices will one day no longer be necessary, and that my own nation will be able to repay its debt through our enduring partnership with the United States."
Wardak and Eikenberry are visiting Washington for consultations with U.S. government and military leaders, Eikensberry told reporters.
The two paid an earlier visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., to observe United Endeavor, a week-long exercise that's preparing 82nd Airborne Division leaders and their Afghan, International Security Assistance Force, interagency and non-governmental organization partners for their upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.
The mission rehearsal exercise brought together about 1,300 servicemembers who will deploy in January as Combined Joint Task Force 76. The task force, which also will include other supporting Army and Air Force elements, will serve in Regional Command East under the NATO-led ISAF.
The exercise built on a troop-level training exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. About 50 Afghan soldiers trained with their 82nd Airborne Division counterparts in late October.
Eikenberry called the Afghan troops' first deployment to the United States for field training a significant step that "underscores the continuing development of the Afghan national security forces."
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