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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Defense Secretary H. Rumsfeld, seeking to reassure allies jittery about reconstruction and humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan, said Thursday "major combat activity" there has come to an end.
The declaration, delivered alongside President Hamid Karzai, came hours before President Bush planned to declare that combat has concluded in Iraq, the second of two nations that became the focal point of the U.S.-led war on global terrorism.
Karzai said Afghanistan has made great progress since the Taliban was overthrown and a new government installed, but he said much more needs to be done.
"Can we provide the whole country with strong administration? No. Why? Primarily because the severe lack of human resources that we have," he said.
"Have we achieved something from last December to today? Yes .... Is it enough? No. Should we do more? Yes. A lot more has to be done," the nation's first postwar president said.
Rumsfeld said the U.S. military will still be involved in trying to stabilize the security situation in Afghanistan, which he said has "porous borders."
"People can in fact return and do things that are unhelpful to the success of this government," he said.
He opened a joint news conference with Karzai with the good news: "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 announcement was not a surprise. There has been little combat in Afghanistan for months, but the administration is trying to bring some public closure to the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq as Bush begins his re-election campaign.
At a military training center in Kabul, where soldiers from the United States and nine other countries are training 700 Afghan soldiers each month, Maj. Gen. Karl Eikenberry earlier told Rumsfeld he hopes to have 9,000 Afghan soldiers trained by June 2004.
Rumsfeld saw some of the basic training being given to the Afghan soldiers, including first aid training and exercises in setting off mortars. He also spoke to dozens of the U.S. special operations forces who are training the Afghans.
"It's been slow getting going but it's now under way and everything I hear says it's going the right way," Rumsfeld said. "I believe that the fate of this country depends in large part on their having their own national army."
Also at the compound, Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told reporters he hopes the declaration that major combat is over will encourage more international assistance with rebuilding Afghanistan. The international community needs to step up and help to rebuild the country which has been devastated by decades of war, he said.
McNeill said he hopes U.S. force could be out of Afghanistan by the end of summer 2004.
On Wednesday, Rumsfeld strode through the Baghdad palace of a fallen dictator and told Iraqis their country was theirs to run.
Rumsfeld walked through the two-story doorway of Saddam Hussein's Abu Ghurayb North palace, shook hands with some of the U.S. generals inside and marveled at a five-story foyer dominated by a chandelier the size of a school bus.
Amid meetings with American commanders, Rumsfeld taped a reassuring message for the Iraqi people.
"Iraq belongs to you," he said, his words broadcast on radio and television. "The coalition has no intention of owning or running Iraq."
Later, at a rally with cheering U.S. and British troops, Rumsfeld said the Bush administration is pressing other countries to turn over Iraqi fugitives.
He told the troops in an Iraqi Airways hangar at Baghdad International Airport, "You've liberated a people, you've deposed a cruel dictator and you have ended his threat to free nations.
Meanwhile, security officials said they believed that three gunshots were fired at the lead vehicle of Rumsfeld's convoy as the secretary was en route to a power plant on the Tigris River Wednesday. No one was hurt.
Rumsfeld met Thursday in Kuwait City with Kuwaiti Emir Sheik Jaber Al Ahmed Al Sabah, telling him he had a good visit to Baghdad.
"The single most vivid impression is that the regime of Saddam Hussein did very poorly for the people of Iraq," Rumsfeld said. "It put the money into the wrong thing. The country is run down."
In Baghdad, Rumsfeld drove past defaced images of Saddam in a military convoy that mixed with battered cars, pickups and buses carrying city residents.
Rumsfeld has insisted his trip is not a "victory tour," waiting for President Bush to make a formal announcement of the end of major combat operations, which is expected Thursday. Some of the commanders in Iraq were less circumspect.
"We won the military fight, clearly," said Maj. Gen. Buford Blount III, commander of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which is occupying Baghdad. He said he hoped his division could start returning home by June.
Retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, who is heading the reconstruction effort in Iraq, said the quick victory prevented the humanitarian crisis he had feared. Americans, Garner said, "ought to be beating our chests every day."
A dozen U.S. allies from Europe and the Americas met in London Wednesday to discuss sending in troops to help with peacekeeping and reconstruction, said Gen. Gene Renuart, operations director for U.S. Central Command. The United States hopes to put together a coalition force large enough to replace one of the two American divisions planned to be in Iraq during the rebuilding phase, Renuart said.
That force probably would not be ready until August or September, Renuart said.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)