Washington: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, trying to repair relations with the US, told Congress on Wednesday that his country owes a "profound debt" to the more than 2,200 American soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
In a speech to a joint meeting of Congress, Ghani also thanked the US for development aid and other civilian assistance. And he promised he will be a good steward of continued US assistance to his country as it works to rebuild while struggling against a stubborn insurgency.
"We owe a profound debt to the soldiers who have lost limbs to buried bombs, to the brave veterans, and to the families who tragically lost their loved ones to the enemy's cowardly acts of terror," Ghani said.
"We owe a profound debt to the many Americans who have come to build schools, repair wells, and cure the sick. And we must acknowledge with appreciation that at the end of the day it is the ordinary Americans whose hard-earned taxes have over the years built the partnership that has led to our conversation today."
Hours before Ghani spoke, at least six people were killed and more than 30 were wounded in a suicide car bombing near the presidential palace in Kabul.
Ghani is untested as a leader, yet he received a warm reception from both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill. The reason: He's not former Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Lawmakers have been critical about US troop involvement in America's longest war, wasteful spending in Afghanistan and Karzai's anti-American rhetoric.
Toward the end of his tenure, Karzai did not think the US was holding Afghanistan's interests front and center. He repeatedly railed against the thousands of civilians being killed and said the war against terrorists should not be fought in the villages of his country.
US officials and lawmakers did not think Karzai's comments were appropriate given that 2,200 US servicemen and women had been killed and billions of US tax dollars had been spent during the conflict.
Still, despite being weary of war, lawmakers from both parties praised the White House announcement Tuesday to slow the pace of the US troop withdrawal.
In a shift from his previous plan, Obama said the US would leave its 9,800 troops in Afghanistan in place rather than downsizing to 5,500 by year's end. The size of the US footprint for next year is still to be decided, Obama said, but he brushed aside any speculation the withdrawal will bleed into 2017.
That means the slowdown won't jeopardize his commitment to end America's involvement in Afghanistan before leaving office.