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Rice promises long-term aid to help Pakistan rebuild

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan—Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday promised long-term U.S. assistance to help Pakistan rebuild from an earthquake that has taken at least 30,000 lives, left 1 million homeless and leveled villages.

Rice made an unscheduled trip to Pakistan to demonstrate U.S. support for a key player in the White House's war on terrorism. She also was eager to be seen reciprocating the help that foreign nations, including Pakistan, gave after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

"The United States has, as many parts of the world have, been through natural disasters. This is one of epic proportions," Rice said after meeting with President Pervez Musharraf and other top officials.

"The task of reconstruction and recovery will be quite large."

Rice spent only 2 { hours in Pakistan, adding the stop on a day in which she was also in neighboring Afghanistan discussing its future.

The 7.6-magnitude earthquake, which struck Saturday morning, devastated remote, mountainous regions in Pakistani-controlled areas of the disputed Kashmir region, as well as areas in India. Relief workers haven't yet reached some villages.

Rice met briefly at Islamabad's airport—suddenly transformed into a bustling hub for international relief efforts—with U.S. helicopter crews ferrying relief supplies and evacuating the injured. Just days ago, members of the 159th Aviation Brigade had been involved in combat in Afghanistan.

Working with the Americans were Pakistani personnel and Afghan doctors.

The United States, among the first to respond after the earthquake, has donated $50 million and sent eight helicopters.

Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said four more helicopters are en route from Bahrain, and another 21 U.S.-based aircraft are available if Musharraf's government needs them.

The United States also is supplying field hospitals, reconnaissance aircraft and commercial satellite imagery to map damaged areas, said Odierno, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In Afghanistan earlier, Rice and Afghan President Hamid Karzai conferred over growing threats to the country's stability, which include resurgent violence by the Taliban and pervasive opium trafficking.

The Pentagon reportedly is considering withdrawing up to 4,000 of the 18,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and turning more responsibility over to NATO peacekeepers. But those plans are threatened by an increase in Taliban guerrilla attacks.

Rice, at a press conference in Kabul with Karzai, sought to calm fears that the United States is tiring of its commitment to the country nearly four years after U.S. troops helped drive the Taliban from power.

"We are not going to leave as we once did," she said, referring to Washington's abandonment of the country after Soviet troops withdrew in 1989. "It was a mistake for us. It was a mistake for the Afghan people."

Rice's visit was punctuated by the increasing violence that's made 2005 the deadliest year for U.S. troops. Eighty-four have been killed in Afghanistan this year.

In the first such attack in Kabul in months, rockets Wednesday morning hit a Canadian military compound, the Canadian ambassador's residence and the Afghan National Security Directorate, causing some injuries.

Linked with the violence is Afghanistan's booming drug trade, which is fueling crime and the insurgents.

Karzai acknowledged the scale of the problem.

"If we fight drugs, corruption, we will be a state respected and standing on our own feet," he said. "If we fail, we will fail as a state eventually and we will fall back in the hands of terrorism."

Karzai's interior minister, Ali Ahmad Jalali, who alleged that senior government officials are involved in the drug trade, quit two weeks ago.


(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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