- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 27, 2003

BAGRAM, Afghanistan — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton promised yesterday, during a whistle-stop tour to spend Thanksgiving with U.S. troops, that the nation will stand with Afghanistan as it tries to rebuild after a quarter-century of conflict.

Mrs. Clinton warned Taliban rebels resurfacing in the country that they “are fighting a losing battle.”

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But the New York Democrat also said more troops are needed in the multinational military coalition providing security. She said it was for others to decide whether those troops should come from the United States or other countries.

The former first lady, who was in Afghanistan along with Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, said the United States is determined to support Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

“I am very impressed by the resolve of the Afghan government, President Karzai in particular,” Mrs. Clinton said after meeting with him at the presidential palace.

She spoke in a palace room still pocked by decades of conflict, including bullet holes in two windows behind her.

“The U.S. is resolved to stand as a strong partner and to ensure that the terrorists, whoever they are, wherever they come from, will be dealt with,” Mrs. Clinton said. “The message should be: The Taliban terrorists are fighting a losing battle.”

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Reed, a former Army paratrooper, later sat down for a dinner of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie with about 50 U.S. soldiers at Bagram air base just north of Kabul, the Afghan capital.

“I also want to convey to them that the American people are fully behind them as they carry out a very difficult task,” said Mrs. Clinton, who met with soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum in northern New York.

“I have a lot of respect for her as a woman,” said Staff Sgt. Tamecha Moore, 31, from Hempstead, N.Y. “I hope she runs for president.”

Bagram air base is home to most of the 11,600 coalition soldiers in Afghanistan. Another 5,500 peacekeepers patrol the capital.

A U.S. transport helicopter crashed Sunday just after leaving Bagram in support of the operation, killing five U.S. servicemen and injuring eight. The cause is under investigation, but the Pentagon said the MH-53’s engine might have failed.

Some 35 Americans have died from hostile fire in Afghanistan since the October 2001 start of the war, the U.S. military said.

The two senators have criticized the Bush administration’s handling of postwar operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were to travel later to Iraq, a trip likely to be overshadowed by President Bush’s spectacular surprise visit yesterday to Baghdad.

Mr. Bush thanked about 600 U.S. troops for their efforts in Iraq and dished up mashed potatoes with their traditional Thanksgiving meal. Other U.S. troops kicked off the day’s celebrations with a “camel trot” through Saddam Hussein’s former palace complex in downtown Baghdad.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, hundreds of U.S. peacekeepers celebrated with an interfaith religious service, a turkey meal and thoughts of home.

Most of the 1,500 U.S. soldiers in Bosnia had the day off, and many gathered on an unseasonably warm morning for a service in the chapel at Eagle Base, near the northern town of Tuzla.

Maj. Jarrod Krull, 37, from Minneapolis, said this was the second time in his 11-year service that he has been away from home for Thanksgiving. Maj. Krull, who is married and has a 5-year-old daughter, served in the 1991 Persian Gulf war.

“Compared to Iraq, this is heaven,” he said.

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