KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Dirty but delighted, U.S. Marines on Friday started climbing out of foxholes on the perimeter of the Kandahar base where they had lived for weeks, turning them over to Army troops taking control of the largest U.S. base in Afghanistan.
As the transfer moved ahead at Kandahar, Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai departed on his first trip abroad since his December inauguration, aiming to drum up money to help rebuild his nation, torn by three decades of war.
After a stop in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to perform a Muslim pilgrimage, Karzai heads to Tokyo for a conference of donor nations aimed at raising an initial $5 billion in aid. Karzai will return home, then head off again to Washington for a Jan. 28 meeting with President Bush, said an aide, known by the single name Humayan.
At the Kandahar base, the Army's 101st Airborne Division is to take formal command on Saturday; about 800 of its soldiers are already there and planes were streaming in Friday bearing more soldiers. Handing over the base to the Army would free the Marines, who arrived in Afghanistan in late November, for the quick assault operations they are trained for.
With a note of humor, the Marines left perimeter posts, where they have been on watch for gunmen who have occasionally opened fire on the base.
"Give me a hug, I haven't had a shower in 42 days," one Marine said.
Army troops took their place, heading out to the dug out positions around the base. Army Sgt. Shawn Coulter of Honesdale, Pa., said the Marines had told him he'd "learn to love it." Asked if he believed that, he said; "Probably not."
"We don't take the responsibility lightly ... this is a very, very dangerous place," said an Army spokesman, Maj. Ignacio Preez.
As Karzai departed from the Afghan capital, Kabul, his interim government -- which is nearly flat broke and facing the prospect of building the country up from nearly nothing -- said it needed the world's help.
"We pledged to the international community ... that we would bring change in our country," Interior Minister Younus Qanooni said. "Now it is their turn to pledge their help ... If they will not help and assist us, we will face many problems."
The Tokyo conference, taking place on Monday and Tuesday with some 50 nations attending, aims to raise $5 billion dollars for the first 2 1/2 years of reconstruction. But Japanese officials stressed that longer-term commitments are needed.
The meeting with Bush, meanwhile, will provide an opportunity for the United States and Afghanistan to develop a partnership against terrorism, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.
"We look forward to an Afghanistan that is prosperous, accountable to its citizens and at peace with its neighbors and the international community," Fleischer said in Washington Thursday.
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