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Afghan Leader Praises Outgoing U.S. Defense Chief

President Karzai (right) with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld in Washington in September 2006 (epa) KABUL, November 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has hailed outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a "good friend" and ally of Afghanistan.

In comments to RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan today, Karzai also noted that the recent midterm election that handed control of at least one chamber of Congress to the Democrats is "an internal affair for the United States" and said it "shows the freedom and democracy of America."

"The resignation of Mr. Rumsfeld is their decision and we respect their decision," Karzai told Radio Free Afghanistan. "However, Mr. Rumsfeld is a friend of Afghanistan, a good ally and supporter in the war against terrorism. I have great respect for him. He is a very knowledgeable man, a very smart person, and a very resolute person. And I am proud to have his friendship."

Rumsfeld's resignation was announced on November 8, one day after U.S. midterm elections that President George W. Bush described as a cumulative "thumping" for his Republican Party.

Rumsfeld has served nearly six years as defense secretary. He came into office with a presidential mandate to transform the U.S. military to meet emerging challenges in a role that took on added significance following the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

Rumsfeld was a key cabinet member in the response to those attacks, including the U.S.-led military invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban and disrupt Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist network.

But U.S. polls suggested widespread voter dissatisfaction with Rumsfeld's handling of the Iraq war.

Bush has nominated former CIA Director Robert Gates to succeed Rumsfeld.