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Thursday, March 31, 2005; Page C14

Learning in Afghanistan

• Under heavy security, first lady Laura Bush visited Afghanistan yesterday to applaud that nation's efforts to promote equal rights for women and girls.

"We are only a few years removed from the rule of terrorists, when women were denied education and every basic human right," Bush told about 15 teacher trainees at a school in Kabul, the Afghan capital. "The power of freedom is on display across Afghanistan."

Afghan schoolchildren greet Laura Bush during her visit to Kabul. (Charles Dharapak -- AP)

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The first lady's six-hour stopover included a meeting with U.S. forces at Bagram Air Base. Three years after driving out Afghanistan's Taliban rulers, the U.S. military has about 17,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. "Thanks to you," she told the troops, "millions of little girls are going to school in this country."

Bush was accompanied by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. Spellings announced that the United States will provide more than $21 million in education aid to Afghanistan, including $3 1/2 million to set up American-style schools.

"I taught elementary school. I know how important teaching is," Bush said.

Millions of Afghan women and girls have returned to work and school since the Taliban was ousted, and equality of men and women is part of the new constitution.

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