Rice to visit Afghanistan

ISLAMABAD, June 27, 2006 (AFP) – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was due Tuesday in Pakistan for talks on regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism, said she would go on to neighbouring Afghanistan.

Rice will briefly travel to Kabul on Wednesday to meet the US-backed President Hamid Karzai, whom she described as an "extraordinary leader".

"This is somebody who has taken this country from civil war and virtually total destruction, in four years, to an honourable position in the international community," Rice said while en route from Washington in remarks that journalists were not allowed to use earlier.

"This is an extraordinary leader and we are going to back him and back him fully. And when he has problems we are going to sit with him and are going to find a way to resolve these problems."

In Kabul, Rice will also meet senior commanders from the US-led coalition that is combating Taliban militants in Afghanistan.

She will then travel on to Moscow for a meeting of the Group of Eight industrial powers starting on Thursday.

Rice last visited Kabul in March alongside US President George W. Bush.

US-led forces helped to topple the fundamentalist Taliban in late 2001 after the Islamist regime refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the wake of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Since then the Taliban have waged an insurgency that has intensified in recent months.