Washington File White House Correspondent
Washington - President Bush, at a White House ceremony October 11, reaffirmed the long-term commitment by the United States to help reconstruct Afghanistan and urged other countries to honor their financial commitments to the Afghan government.
"If you say you will help the Afghanistan people, do it," Bush said. He did not single out any nation.
The event highlighted U.S. efforts over the last year - since allied forces routed the Taliban from Afghanistan - to bring peace and democracy to Afghanistan and to improve life for the people of Afghanistan through food, education and health programs.
"Afghanistan has entered a new era of hope," Bush said. "We want to continue to be a part" of that.
"There's still a lot left to do," the president said. "There's still a lot of work to do in Afghanistan to achieve our dreams - and more importantly, the dreams of the Afghan people. Today, America affirms its full commitment to a future of progress and stability for the Afghan people."
Bush said the United States is keeping its pledge to spend, along with other countries, more than $4,500 million over the next five years to help Afghanistan recover. The United States, he said, is currently implementing more than $300 million in recovery and rehabilitation programs there. In addition, Bush said, U.S. children have donated more than $10 million under America's Fund for Afghan Children that he announced last year. "That's a lot of kids working hard to collect money," Bush said.
"We went into Afghanistan to free people, because we believe in freedom. We believe every life counts. Every life matters," Bush said. "So we're helping people recover from living under years of tyranny and oppression. We're helping Afghanistan claim its democratic future."
Flanking the president on the stage were first lady Laura Bush and a group of U.S. citizens who have been actively involved in providing humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan.
One of them was Lisa Hartenberger, a teacher who now works in Afghanistan coordinating school curriculum development programs administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Since the overthrow of the Taliban, progress being made in education in Afghanistan is "really, really encouraging ... There is a huge, huge demand for education," Hartenberger said in a press conference following the event.
Three million children are now enrolled in school, she said, about 50 percent of them in the first grade. She pointed out that first graders include up to fourteen-year-olds, and many of them are girls because the Taliban did not allow girls to go to school.
The ceremony also featured two U.S. soldiers. One, Captain Britton London, led an Army civil affairs team in Orgun-e, Afghanistan, that repaired health clinics, built new schools, provided school supplies to children, dug wells for local villages, and distributed food. The other, Sergeant First Class Victor Alan Andersen, an Army medic, conducted assessments of hospitals and clinics, distributed supplies to medical facilities, and treated Afghan citizens for a variety of medical conditions including broken bones, gunshot wounds, cuts, diseases and, in one case, a donkey bite.
At the news conference following the ceremony, Andersen said the opportunity to help the people of Afghanistan was a "fantastic" experience for him.
Eighteen-year-old twins Sara Elisabeth Ahmad and Alexander Sayed Ahmad of Scottsdale, Arizona, whose father is originally from Afghanistan, also took part in the ceremony and reported that together they raised over $12,000 for the America's Fund for Afghan Children through bake sales and other volunteer activities.
In the audience was Afghanistan Ambassador to the United States Ishaq Shahryar, who had been a scientist for the National Aeronautic and Space Administration for many years but renounced his U.S. citizenship so that he could serve the land of his birth. Bush called him "a great man who serves as a wonderful example of putting your country above yourself."
Also in the audience was Sharif Faez, Afghanistan's Minister of Higher Education. "He, too, used to live in America," Bush pointed out. "He's now serving his country. He shares our vision and understanding of the need to make sure the educational systems are strong and available, so that people can have hope in his country."
Guests included Andrew Natsios, the Director of USAID, and other U.S. government officials and members of Congress.
(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)