US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Afghanistan on Wednesday to show support for President Hamid Karzai, whose popularity has slumped as he struggles to stem a surge in Taliban violence.
Rice's trip could also help blunt criticism in a US election year from congressional Democrats that the Bush administration has ignored the militant threat in Afghanistan because it is focused on fighting insurgents in Iraq.
The top US diplomat, who flew from Islamabad to meet Karzai in Kabul, pledged unswerving support for the president.
"I think, the president thinks, the American administration believes this is an extraordinary leader.
Afghanistan is fortunate to have President Karzai at its helm," Rice told reporters as she flew to the region.
Her main strategic goal in the Asia trip is to persuade Pakistan and Afghanistan to put aside their bickering and work more closely together to combat militants around their border.
"We, Afghanistan and Pakistan are going to unify all our efforts, as we have done over the last several years, towards the goal of eliminating the threat of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban," she told a news conference in Islamabad after meeting President Pervez Musharraf on the first leg of her trip.
Two years ago, Afghanistan was held up as a US foreign policy success story following Karzai's election triumph.
But anti-US, anti-Karzai riots rocked Kabul last month and violence in Afghanistan, especially in the south, is at its worst since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001, with more than 1,100 people killed since January.
The Taliban's resurgence comes as the US-led coalition prepares to transfer command of southern Afghanistan to NATO-led peacekeepers at the end of July, and is seen as an attempt to weaken the resolve among members of the alliance.
Musharraf and Karzai have been at loggerheads over accusations the Taliban insurgency is being run from Pakistani territory, and Pakistan is worried by Kabul's burgeoning friendship with rival India.
The United States, which has close to 23,000 troops in Afghanistan and is its biggest benefactor, has also said Taliban fighters are coming from Pakistan.
Rice praised both allies for their efforts in the war on terrorism, but knows she has her work cut out in a region where Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders have evaded capture for nearly five years.
"The piece we need to work harder on is the cooperation that is US-Afghan-Pakistani in that region," she told reporters.