Nearly 14 years after the U.S. military forced the Taliban out of power in Afghanistan, the country’s new leader showed up bright and early Monday morning in the Pentagon courtyard to thank American troops and taxpayers for their sacrifices for his country.
Unlike Hamid Karzai, who served as Afghanistan’s president from 2004 to 2014, Ashraf Ghani is far more accommodating to U.S. concerns. He thanked the 2,215 U.S. troops who died in Afghanistan, the 20,000 wounded, and the nearly 1 million who served there.
“You have been in the most remotest valleys, and the highest peaks, and the parched deserts, and beautiful valleys, but also in most demanding situations,” he said. “When you wake up at night, sometimes you're not sure whether you're back there or here, but what gratifies me as the president of Afghanistan is what I've had the honor to hear repeatedly from American veterans, 'I have left a piece of my heart in Afghanistan.'”
Ghani is in the U.S. this week to meet with President Obama and seek Washington’s continued help, both military and financial, to strengthening his struggling nation. He is spending much of Monday with Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry discussing his nation’s needs at an Obama-free Camp David. Ghani knows how this game is played: he worked at the World Bank, two blocks from the White House, for more than a decade before returning to his homeland in 2002 following the Taliban’s overthrow.
Ghani said he hoped American veterans of the war in Afghanistan will someday return as tourists with their families so that Afghans “will be able to say thank you to each one of you personally, shake your hands, and invite you to our homes.”
Unlike Karzai, who could be taciturn, Ghani was good natured as he praised the U.S. generals who commanded the Afghan campaign. “Let me say these generals hardly get more than six hours of sleep. And thanks to Pentagon, most of the time, because of [overnight] video conferences, they don't even get that,” he said to laughs from his chilly-morning Pentagon audience.
He praised Obama for his “sense of clarity” in ending the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan three months ago, and the U.S. role in creating “a proud Afghan security force that has dealt with the best of you and emulates the best of your example.” Nearly 10,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan.
Finally, he thanked U.S. taxpayers for making “your hard-earned dollars available” to rebuild his country. The U.S. has spent nearly $700 billion in Afghanistan since 2001. Ghani pledged “to account for every single one of those dollars and pennies.” That will delight the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, who has spent years trying to do just that.