Karzai Aside, Many Afghans Won't Miss Bush

President Bush hugs Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Palace on Dec. 15, 2008 in Kabul, Afghanistan. AP Photo/Evan Vucci

This story was written by CBS News' Fazul Rahim in Kabul.
President Bush told his Afghan counterpart Monday that the United States will stand by Afghanistan, regardless of the transition of power at the White House next month.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Mr. Bush said he had told President Hamid Karzai, "You can count on the United States. Just like you've been able to count on this administration, you will be able to count on the next administration."

But many Afghans are counting on the new administration to bring change, rather than a continuation of President Bush's policy.

The leader of the biggest political opposition alliance to Karzai's administration, Fazil Sangcharaki, told CBS News, "President Bush's Afghan policy has been full of mistakes."

"He underestimated the threat of the Taliban, he invested heavily on a specific circle of incompetent and corrupt technocrats, led by President Karzai. We hope the President-elect will not follow his footsteps and instead invest in the Afghan nation," said Sanghcharaki.

As Mr. Bush enters his last month in power, Afghans are becoming increasingly skeptical of the U.S. and allied forces' ability to tackle a growing Taliban insurgency and curb the violence that plagues their country.

President Bush's trip was viewed by some as little more than a morale booster for U.S. troops and the political leaders of Afghanistan.

Another opposition lawmaker was equally critical.

"This is Mr. Bush's farewell trip to a country he invaded over seven years ago, promising to bring security and prosperity," said Afghan parliamentarian Saleh Registani. "But seven years on, the situation has deteriorated to the extent that whatever we gained so far is seriously threatened."

"Mr. Bush's biggest mistake, I think, was to start another war before he could finish this one. The diversion of much-needed resources and troops to Iraq has pushed us to the verge of loosing to the Taliban, so we hope the upcoming president has learned from the mistakes of his predecessor," said Registani.

The President arrived in Afghanistan unexpectedly Monday morning after visiting Baghdad on Sunday. His first stop in the country was the Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, where he addressed American troops. (Read the main story.)

Mr. Bush rejected a suggestion during the news conference that America is failing to meet its promise to bring security and prosperity to Afghanistan, but acknowledged the fight wasn't over and the enemy was proving formidable.

"I just sited the progress, it is undeniable, I never said the Taliban was eliminated, I said they were removed from power, they are lethal and they are tough," Mr. Bush said.

A recent report by the Brazil-based International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) said the Taliban currently hold a permanent presence across 72 percent of Afghanistan.

Though the think-tank's findings were disputed by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces and the Afghan government, suicide bombings have claimed more than 4,000 lives this year alone.
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