Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has made a brief surprise visit to Afghanistan. Mr. Rumsfeld met with the Afghan president, who called for a security deal with the United States.
As Mr. Rumsfeld visited, Afghanistan is facing increased attacks from Islamic militants and a resurgent opium and heroin trade. Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking greater military support from the United States and used Mr. Rumsfeld's trip to press his case.
The two discussed expanding the U.S. military's role in Afghanistan's security.
During a joint press conference following their meeting, Mr. Karzai said Afghanistan wants a longer-term relationship with the United States.
"The Afghan people want this relationship to be a sustained economic relationship and political relationship and most importantly of all, a strategic security relationship that would enable Afghanistan to defend itself," he said.
Mr. Karzai said he would submit a formal request to President Bush, but did not say when.
In response, Mr. Rumsfeld praised Mr. Karzai's leadership and reiterated Washington's commitment to Afghanistan.
But he pointedly did not promise any specific arrangements, avoiding any discussion of permanent U.S. military bases.
"What we generally do when we work with another country is what we have been doing. We find ways we can be helpful, it may be training, it may be equipment, maybe there is other types of assistance."
Mr. Rumsfeld said any additional commitments would have to be discussed with President Bush or the State Department.
The United States recently agreed to expand the scope of its operations in Afghanistan. U.S. armed forces will begin training local police forces as well as stepping up anti-drug efforts.
Afghanistan currently supplies about 80 percent of the world's heroin. The United Nations has warned the country could become dominated by the drug industry.
On Tuesday, local poppy farmers clashed with Afghan forces trying to destroy drug crops in the south. The violence forced the government to temporarily suspend its eradication operations.
Mr. Rumsfeld is now in Pakistan, where he met with President Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war on terror.