Cheney Attends Afghanistan Parliament Opening
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Vice President Dick Cheney visited Afghanistan today, one day after his surprise eight-hour stop in Iraq. He was on hand as the country's first elected parliament in more than 30 years was sworn in. Warlords, tribal leaders, former refugees and women make up the 249-seat body. NPR's David Greene is traveling with the vice president.
DAVID GREENE reporting:
President Bush has staked much of his foreign policy on being able to spread democracy and the two main testing grounds are Afghanistan and Iraq. Today, Vice President Cheney's in the Afghan capital of Kabul as independently elected members of parliament take their seats for the first time. It's sure to be a powerful reminder of how far the country has come since being run by the Taliban, but the Taliban spoke up yesterday. The Reuters news agency quoted a Taliban commander as calling the new parliament a bogus symbol of an American occupation and adding that killing agents of foreign infidels is permissible.
Security is sure to be tight as it was when Cheney made a surprise landing yesterday in Baghdad. Reporters on his plane had no idea they were bound for Iraq until hours after they left Washington. Cheney knows Baghdad well--he played pivotal roles in two wars against Iraq--but this was his first visit to the city. He told reporters Iraqi parliamentary elections were a major sign of progress.
Vice President DICK CHENEY: Participation levels all across the country were remarkable, and that's exactly what needs to happen as you build a political structure and a self-governing Iraq that can unify the various segments of the population and ultimately take over responsibility for their own security.
GREENE: In Iraq, the vice president and his entourage traveled in Black Hawk helicopters that flew fast and low. Guns were mounted on each side and manned by soldiers. Cheney's advisers said this trip was not necessarily planned to coincide with the president's prime-time address on Iraq last night. Still the White House, after facing sustained criticism of Mr. Bush's war policy and calls for troop withdrawals, began a major PR offensive to try to regain support for the war. Cheney, doing his part, stopped at Tagi Air Base outside Baghdad where US military personnel are training and in some cases working alongside Iraqi security forces. Lieutenant General Marty Dempsey told reporters the ranks of trained Iraqi military forces are growing by the thousands, but he also acknowledged that training police officers to help secure the country's towns and cities has been tougher.
Lieutenant General MARTY DEMPSEY: Police in compared to the army is probably six months behind because we started with them later and because again police are recruited locally, they work locally, they go home into their neighborhoods. And so getting them to feel a sense of loyalty to something other than their immediate neighborhood has been more of a challenge.
GREENE: Cheney finished his day in the volatile Al Anbar province west of Baghdad. He surprised Marines and other personnel at Al-Asad Air Base who were not told of the identity of their guest until he was on the ground.
(Soundbite of applause)
Vice Pres. CHENEY: Well, I'm not Jessica Simpson.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GREENE: Before several hundred troops, Cheney said the president will not accommodate the calls for withdrawal heard back in Washington. The troops reacted to Cheney's comment politely.
Vice Pres. CHENEY: Any decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground and the judgment of our commanders, not by artificial time lines set by politicians in Washington, DC.
Unidentified Soldiers: Ooh-ha.
GREENE: Afterwards, Cheney sat down to speak with a handful of military personnel. Marine Corporal Bradley Warren told the vice president that from his position on the ground he hasn't seen much in the way of gains. He asked Cheney what he thought. The vice president said he's seen remarkable progress. `It's hard sometimes if you look at just the news,' Cheney said, `to have the good stories burn through.' David Greene, NPR News, Muscat, Oman.