Bush flies to Afghanistan for second surprise military visit

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 14, 2008 

KABUL, Afghanistan - President Bush made a surprise visit to Afghanistan's capital Monday, where he rallied troops even as he acknowledged that violence is rising.

"No question violence is up" and it's going to worsen, Bush told reporters traveling with him on Air Force One before landing at Bagram Air Base, where he held a rally for U.S. soldiers and Marines stationed there.

"Afghanistan is a dramatically different country than it was eight years ago," he said. "We are making hopeful gains."

Bush came here directly from Iraq as part of his final tour of the two war zones as president. It is the president's second trip here.

In Iraq, Bush signed a status of forces agreement setting the terms for the American withdrawal from that country. During a press conference, the president narrowly avoided being struck by two shoes thrown by an Iraqi journalist.

"This is a goodbye kiss, you dog," the journalist, Muntathar al Zaidi, 29, shouted.

Bush ducked the first shoe, which appeared to have been aimed squarely at the president's head. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, standing to Bush's left, tried to swat down the second. Neither hit the president.

Another Iraqi journalist yanked Zaidi to the ground before bodyguards collapsed on Zaidi and held him there while he yelled "Killer of Iraqis, killer of children." From the bottom of the pile, he moaned loudly and said "my hand, my hand."

Zaidi was hauled to a separate room, where his cries remained audible for a few moments.

Video of the incident showed that no Secret Service agents assigned to protect the president were near Bush when Zaidi threw the shoes. The first agent appears to move to the president's side after the second shoe was thrown. Bush waved him off. The incident was largely over before several other bodyguards can be seen entering the room from behind the president.

In Afghanistan, Bush met with U.S. troops at 5:30 a.m. local time. He then went to a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. He was expected to return to Washington by evening.

Bush said he wanted to thank Karzai and "let the people of Afghanistan know that the United States has stood with them and will stand with them."

There was no advance notice that Bush would be visiting. The only hint of the president's arrival was the unusual sound of several helicopters flying over Kabul in the pre-dawn hours.

Army Gen. David McKiernan, the top commander in Afghanistan, has asked for 20,000 more troops to combat the Taliban's growing presence here. Throughout the country, violence is rising and Taliban forces are imposing their will on a growing number of communities.

President-elect Barack Obama has promised to shift U.S. military resources from Iraq to Afghanistan .

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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