Afghan president gives heartfelt thanks to US troops

 Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered deep thanks Monday to US troops for more than a decade of sacrifice, at the start of a visit aimed at turning the page on past strained US ties.

Kabul: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani offered deep thanks Monday to US troops for more than a decade of sacrifice, at the start of a visit aimed at turning the page on past strained US ties.

"We do not now ask what the United States can do for us," said Ghani, turning around a famous phrase by former president John F. Kennedy, on his first official trip to the United States as Afghan president.

"We want to say what Afghanistan will do for itself and for the world. And that means we are going to put our house in order," he told soldiers and top US officials at a Pentagon ceremony.

Afghanistan would always appreciate the contributions of the more than 850,000 troops who have deployed to Afghanistan since the attacks of September 11, 2001, Ghani vowed, repeating his thanks on several occasions.

The talks then moved to the remote, wooded presidential retreat of Camp David in Maryland, with the delegations flying in by helicopter to the sprawling site far from prying eyes. 

Secretary of State John Kerry said the delegations from the two countries would "spend a quiet, thoughtful day in an atmosphere of open discussion in order to talk about the remarkable transition that is taking place in Afghanistan."

In a series of meetings also joined by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the US was seeking to forge a path forward for relations after years of distrust sown under former Afghan president Hamid Karzai. 

Ghani promised his government would not "be a burden" to the international community and would put its "house in order."

"Our message is one that it`s time for Afghanistan to reciprocate the gift that the United States has so generously provided over the years," said Ghani, a Western-educated economist who used to work for the World Bank.

"Reciprocating the gift means owning our problems, solving them and asking of ourselves what we must do for ourselves and for the region."President Barack Obama will host Ghani on Tuesday at the White House and is expected to announce plans to slow down the pace of a scheduled withdrawal of the 10,000-strong US force left in Afghanistan, officials said.

For much of the past years since the US-led invasion ousted the Islamic militant Taliban from power in Kabul in 2001, Washington has been fighting a parallel battle with Karzai.

There was relief when Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah took office in late 2014, in a power-sharing deal negotiated by Kerry in a 48-hour mission to Kabul, widely believed to have stopped the contentious elections flaring into open conflict.

US officials say Ghani appears willing to carry out security and economic reforms that will put Afghanistan on a path to eventual self-reliance, one that does not require endless US funding and indefinite large-scale troop deployments.

That sits well with Obama, who has promised to pull out troops from Afghanistan by 2017, when he leaves office.

On Tuesday, before his meeting with Obama, Ghani will head to Arlington National Cemetery, where many of the troops killed in Afghanistan are buried.But amid the harmonious rhetoric, there remain points of contention between Ghani and Obama.

The Afghan president is pressing for a long-term US commitment for financial aid. 

And he has made clear he wants Obama to slow the pace of the troop drawdown, citing the threat of the Taliban trying to re-establish a foothold in Afghanistan.

The United States had planned to scale back its military footprint from 10,000 troops to 5,500 by December, but that number is likely to be revised, officials say.

Any announcement will not be made until Obama has had White House discussions with Ghani on Tuesday, US officials said.

However, the goal of having the whole combat force out by 2017 has not changed, US officials said.

Ghani will appeal to Obama for continued financial backing for Afghanistan, to give time for the country`s economy to stand on its own, officials in Kabul said.

A senior Afghan official told AFP: "The meetings in the US will focus on another key point: the financial support to Afghanistan, which has been secured until 2017, but needs to be confirmed for the following five years."

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