WASHINGTON — When Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s interim leader, meets President Bush on Monday, he is expected to seek a continuing U.S. commitment to help restore the peace in his violence-torn country, Afghan officials say.
Karzai arrived here Sunday afternoon, the first Afghan leader to visit Washington in 39 years.
Before leaving for the United States, Karzai told Afghan television that he would use the trip to push for the expansion of a multinational peacekeeping force into the rest of Afghanistan.
Afghan officials believe troops are needed in the countryside to deal with regional warlords and armed gangs. They also have indicated they want American troops to participate.
“This is the determination of the Afghan people,” Karzai said.
The Bush administration has resisted U.S. involvement in the 2,500-person British-led international security assistance force operating in Kabul. Thousands more troops are expected.
Karzai, 44, attended a prayer service at a mosque in suburban Virginia in the afternoon and planned an evening address at Georgetown University.
Several hundred Afghan-Americans at the mosque were brought up to date on the situation in Afghanistan by Karzai, who spoke in one of the main languages of Afghanistan.
The predominantly male audience applauded frequently during his 25-minute presentation.
No translation was provided.
The Bush administration is undecided on how long U.S. troops, currently numbering about 4,000, should remain in Afghanistan.
Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah said in an interview Friday he believes U.S. and international forces should remain in Afghanistan beyond the six-month life of the interim government.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said last week that American troops will remain in Afghanistan at least until the summer. The interim government steps down in June and will be replaced by a government selected by a national council.
The American military focus in Afghanistan has been on hunting down remnants of the Taliban regime that was deposed in November and the al-Qaida terrorist group, headed by Osama bin Laden.
Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday he believes bin Laden, blamed for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, is still alive.
“We haven’t seen him, obviously, in the flesh recently, and he’s been very quiet,” Cheney told “Fox News Sunday.” “He hasn’t released any videos or made any public pronouncements. But I think, if he were dead, there’d be more indications of it than we’ve seen.”
In addition to security issues, Bush and Karzai are expected to discuss rebuilding Afghanistan, and political issues such as the role of women in Afghan civic institutions, a U.S. official said.
Karzai will be a guest of honor Tuesday when Bush delivers the State of the Union address.