President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan Sunday, marking the end of a triumphant week at home with a secret flight and whirlwind tour to visit U.S. troops and Afghan officials.
Obama arrived at Bagram Air Force Base north of Kabul at 7:25 pm Sunday local time – 10:55 am EDT Sunday – after an unscheduled 12-hour flight aboard Air Force One.
It was his first visit as president and commander in chief of the war in Afghanistan and his second visit since a tour as a Senator and presidential candidate.
The trip capped a week in which Obama won Congressional approval of a health care overhaul that was the centerpiece of his domestic agenda, signed it into law, and announced a treaty agreement with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to cut the nuclear arsenals of both countries.
With those in hand, the White House notified Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday that Obama wanted to meet.
"One of the main reasons I'm here is to just say thank you for the incredible efforts of our US troops and our coalition partners,” Obama said after a half hour meeting with Karzai.
"They make tremendous sacrifices far away from home, and I want to make sure they know how proud their commander-in-chief is of them."
Greeted at the Bargam air base by Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghansitan, and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Obama rushed into Kabul by helicopter to meet with Karzai.
Afterward, Karzai said he wanted to "express the gratitude of our people for the help that America has given us for the last 8 years." He thanked U.S. taxpayers for "the rebuilding and re-establishing the institutions in Afghanistan."
Obama said Afghanistan has improved, noting that he could see "increased electricity production" while flying in.
:The American people are encouraged by the progress that's been made," Obama said. In addition to military progress, he said, "we also want to continue to make progress on the civilian process." He mentioned corruption and the rule of law.
U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones said the face-to-face meeting was needed to reinforce messages sent via video teleconferences between the two leaders, the last one of which took place two weeks ago.
"This is something that simply has to be done. We have to have the strategic rapport with President Karzai and his cabinet to understand how we are going to succeed this year in reversing the momentum the Taliban and the opposition forces have been able to establish since 2006,” Jones said.
Karzai will visit the United States on May 12.
Obama later visited with about 2,000 troops in a cavernous temporary hangar at Bagram, many from the 82nd Airborne.
(Thomma reported from Washington)
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