COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF: US President Barack Obama rallies troops
at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Sunday.
By Daniel Stone
It appeared to be a quiet weekend for President Obama to spend with his family at Camp David until mid-day Sunday, when the White House announced that Obama had touched down in Kabul as part of a secret trip to Afghanistan. News of the planned visit was kept classified until Obama touched down Sunday evening local time (late morning in Washington).
The White House has a history of making unpublicized visits to parts of the world where security is an issue. In 2003, President Bush made an unannounced trip to Baghdad to meet with U.S. troops and serve them Thanksgiving dinner. Obama also visited Camp Victory in Iraq just three months after he was sworn in. But Obama’s trip — his first to Afghanistan as president — is different. Despite the 100,000 U.S. troops in the country, the main purpose for the president’s trip was to talk diplomacy and strategy with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. According to National Security Adviser James Jones, who briefed reporters aboard Air Force One, Obama intended to make President Karzai understand that “there are certain things that have been not paid attention to, almost since day one. That is, things like…a merit-based system for appointment of key government officials, battling corruption and taking the fight to the narco-traffickers, which fuels and provides a lot of the economic engine for the insurgents.”
The insurgency is the primary reason for the U.S. presence in the country. And the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year relies on a sizable decrease in corruption and violence. Obama has admitted that the plan hinges on the Afghan government and military standing on its own feet, but analysts in the region have noted that Afghan leaders have been sluggish to prop themselves up. A Newsweek cover story last week also detailed how the Afghan police force is unprepared to operate without U.S. assistance.
Details of Obama’s visit are scarce, but there appears to be little fanfare during the trip. The welcoming ceremony between Karzai and Obama lasted no more than 10 minutes and the meetings that will follow between the two men and their national security teams seem to be strictly business.
What is clear, however, is Obama’s intent for making the trip. Having vowed last fall that combat troops would begin coming home next summer, the president knows his reputation – and his standing with conservatives who think he’s too soft on national security – relies on him making good on that promise. To do that requires hefty motivation for Karzai and his government to get things moving. For Obama, there are few better ways to show you’re serious than showing up at someone’s door.
HAPPY PESACH 2010