President Bush Makes Surprise Visit To Afghanistan

President Bush made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Wednesday, his first to the country where U.S. forces ousted the Taliban following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Bush met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a five-hour unannounced stopover en route to India and Pakistan.

A group of low-flying helicopters carried Bush and his entourage from Bagram Air Base, the headquarters for U.S. troops, to the capital of Kabul, where he was received by Karzai.

After meeting with Karzai at the presidential palace, Bush told reporters he remained confident al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden "will be brought to justice" despite a so-far futile hunt.

"We're making progress of dismantling al Qaeda," Bush said as he stood beside Karzai outside the palace. "Slowly but surely we're bringing the people to justice and the world is better for it."

Karzai hailed Bush as "our great friend, our great supporter, a man who helped us liberate."

Bush said bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks, eventually will be caught.

"It's not a matter of if they're captured and brought to justice, it's when they're brought to justice," Bush said.

Bush also congratulated the Afghan people, who voted in parliamentary elections in September.

"People all over the world are watching the experience here in Afghanistan," he said. "I hope that the people of Afghanistan understand that as democracy takes hold, you're inspiring others."

Bush presided over a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the U.S. Embassy and spoke to troops at Bagram before continuing to India and Pakistan.

This was Bush's first trip to Afghanistan, where an October 2001 U.S. invasion eventually toppled the Taliban regime that had harbored bin Laden and allowed terrorist training camps on its soil.

On Tuesday, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency said that while Afghanistan had successful national and provincial elections in 2005, the Taliban "remains capable and resilient."

"In 2005, the Taliban and other anti-coalition movement groups increased attacks by 20 percent," Lt. Gen. Michael Maples told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"We judge that the insurgency appears emboldened by perceived tactical successes and will be active this spring."

India protests

From Afghanistan, Bush traveled India, where thousands of people chanted anti-U.S. slogans. In New Delhi, people protesting Bush's visit -- his first to the nation -- waved signs and burned U.S. flags.

Bush hopes to sign a critical nuclear accord with New Delhi, a move which has raised political hackles in both nations.

"This is a difficult issue for the Indian government. It's a difficult issue for the American government. And so we'll continue to dialogue," Bush said in Afghanistan. "Hopefully we can reach an agreement. If not, we'll continue to work on it until we do."

On his trip, the U.S. leader also will try to boost security and economic ties with India, and will try to soothe tensions between India and neighboring Pakistan, also a nation with a nuclear capability.

Pakistan is a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, but many in Washington want to see Islamabad make stronger efforts to dismantle terrorist training camps on its soil.

Under the proposed nuclear deal between New Delhi and Washington, the United States would supply nuclear technology and fuel desperately needed by India to fuel its booming but energy-starved economy.

India has pledged in return to separate its military and civilian nuclear programs and open up the civilian ones to international inspection.

But some members of the U.S. Congress, who must approve the deal, believe this deal will undermine the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which India has refused to sign.

Speaking on Air Force One while traveling to India, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said some sticking points for the deal remained.

"The one thing that is absolutely necessary is that any agreement would assure that once India has decided to put a reactor under safeguard that it remain permanently under safeguard," she said in a report from The Associated Press.

That would prevent India from transferring a reactor from civilian to military status and exempting it from international inspections.