Kabul, May 9 (Reuters): US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage visited Kabul today on the second leg of an Asian tour to stress that events in Iraq will not distract Washington from its responsibilities in Afghanistan.
Armitage said Washington did not support an appeal by UN special representative to Afghanistan Lakhdar Brahimi for international peacekeepers to be deployed outside Kabul.
But, in response to a question, he said US combat troops would not leave the country until the Afghan government and its people felt secure.
A large explosion was heard near the US embassy while Armitage was inside the building today. The blast shook houses in the Afghan capital’s upmarket Wazir Akbar Khan district at 4.20 pm (1720 GMT). The cause of the blast was not clear.
Last week, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld paid a one-day visit to Kabul and said US-led forces in the country had moved from major combat operations to a period of stabilisation and reconstruction.
“President Bush has asked me to come to Afghanistan shortly following secretary Rumsfeld’s visit to dramatically make the point the US, although we may be occupied at present in Iraq, is not going to forget our responsibilities here in Afghanistan,” Armitage said.
“We are able to do two things at the same time,” he added, in a brief news conference held in the shattered remains of Afghanistan’s National Museum in Kabul.
Armitage handed over a cheque to the Afghan government for $100,000 to help refurbish the museum, virtually bare after most of its contents were destroyed under the Taliban.
Earlier Armitage met President Hamid Karzai and other officials of the US-backed government, and said they had shared their concerns about security along the Pakistani border.
Afghan officials say guerrillas sympathetic to the ousted Taliban regime are slipping across the border, and senior Taliban leaders are sheltering in Pakistan’s cities.