Where's Osama?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, March 1, 2006; 12:24 PM

President Bush made a surprise stop in Afghanistan today on his way to India and Pakistan. But it wasn't exactly a victory tour.

His hurried, heavily armored five hours there may have primarily served to call attention to the increasingly poor security situation there -- and to the fact that Osama bin Laden is still alive and on the loose.

Bush and Afghan President Hamid Karzai held a 12-minute press availability this morning. Here's the transcript .

Karzai welcomed Bush effusively: "Well, such a wonderful moment for us in Afghanistan today to have our great friend, our great supporter, a man that helped us liberate, a man that helped us rebuild, a man that helped us move toward the future, President Bush, today with us in Afghanistan."

Bush responded with words of support: "It's such a thrill to come to a country which is dedicating itself to the dignity of every person that lives here. . . . One of the messages I want to say to the people of Afghanistan is it's our country's pleasure and honor to be involved with the future of this country."

But once it turned to questions -- and only four were allowed -- guess who came up?

Terence Hunt of the Associated Press: "I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, there was a time when you talked about getting Osama bin Laden dead or alive. Why is he still on the loose five years later? And are you still confident that you'll get him?"

Bush: "I am confident he will be brought to justice. What's happening is, is that we got U.S. forces on the hunt for not only bin Laden, but anybody who plots and plans with bin Laden. . . .

"We're making progress of dismantling al Qaeda. Slowly but surely, we're bringing the people to justice, and the world is better for it, as a result of our steady progress."

Later, it was Afghanistan television's turn: "Your Excellency President Bush, welcome to Afghanistan and wish you a pleasant stay. The question is -- it has been four years since the presence of the international forces in Afghanistan. However, the security situation is increasingly deteriorating. What will be your long-term security policy to Afghanistan? And the second part of the question is, how will the U.S. policy be affected in regards to Afghanistan if Osama and [Taliban leader] Mullah [Mohammad] Omar are captured?"

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

As for the deteriorating security situation? Or when American troops will leave? Bush ducked those issues entirely.

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