WASHINGTON (AP) The United States will play a leading role in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, including helping the nation build its own military, President Bush said yesterday as he stood with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai.

Bush also announced $50 million in U.S. loan aid to help rebuild the war-battered nation. “The United States will continue to be a friend to the Afghan people,” Bush said.

In a joint Rose Garden appearance, Karzai thanked the United States for its help in driving the Taliban from power and wiping out Osama bin Laden”s al-Qaida terror forces in his country.

“We will not allow terrorism to return,” he said, speaking in English.

“This joint struggle against terrorism should go to the absolute end of it. We should bring them out of their caves, out of their hide-outs,” Karzai said.

As to bin Laden”s whereabouts, Karzai said: “We are looking for him. He is a fugitive. If we find him, we”ll catch him.”

Karzai had expressed interest in having U.S. forces remain in his country as part of a multinational peacekeeping force.

Bush ruled out such a direct role, but said the United States will support the international security force and stands ready to help if its “troops get in trouble.”

But more significantly, Bush said, “We”re going to help Afghanistan develop her military. That is the most important part of this visit.”

He said that Gen. Tommy Franks, head of U.S. forces in the region, “fully understands this and is fully committed to this idea.”

The United States will also support programs to train Afghan police officers, Bush said.

“I reaffirm to you today that the United States will continue to be a friend to the Afghan people in all the challenges that lie ahead,” Bush said.

“Afghanistan is a good partner. It will stay a good partner,” Karzai responded.

Earlier, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said he did not envision a U.S. role in the peacekeeping force.

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