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Obama makes a surprise inspection of Afghanistan

Last updated on: March 29, 2010 11:24 IST

Obama makes a surprise inspection of Afghanistan

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US President Barack Obama has asked his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai to act decisively against corruption and provide good governance to ensure a more prosperous and secure Afghanistan that "is not subject to meddling by its neighbours".

The message was conveyed to Karzai and his Cabinet by Obama himself in his unannounced trip to Kabul on Sunday night, which lasted for a little over five hours.

The US president arrived in Kabul on a surprise trip on Sunday night and met Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to get a first-hand assessment of the bloody eight-year-old war.

The visit, which came three months after he ordered a surge of 30,000 troops, was shrouded in secrecy for security reasons as he landed in darkness after an overnight flight from Washington and flew into the capital from Bagram airfield.

Addressing a joint press conference with Karzai, Obama reiterated his strong support and commitment for Afghanistan.

"I want to send a strong message that the partnership between the United States and Afghanistan is going to continue. We have seen already progress with respect to the military campaign against extremism in the region," Obama said in his statement.

He also renewed the US' efforts on the civilian front which would result "in a Afghanistan that is more prosperous, more secure, independent; is not subject to meddling by its neighbours; a transition will be able to occur so that more and more security efforts are made by the Afghans."


Image: US President Barack Obama inspects a guard of honor with Afghan President Karzai at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on Sunday
Photographs: Jim Young / Reuters
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"I am very pleased to see that there's been some excellent efforts in terms of partnering Afghan national security forces with US and coalition forces.

"We think that points to the direction that all of us are interested in a day when Afghanistan is going to be able to provide for its own security but continue a long-term strategic partnership with the United States," he said.

Obama spoke about the initial progress that Afghanistan had made and the need to sustain it further.

A top aide of Obama said the talks were aimed at discussing with Karzai a whole range of issues including benchmarks set for the reintegration and reconciliation process.

National Security Advisor General (rtd) James Jones told White House reporters on board Air Force One shortly before landing that Obama would "engage President Karzai to make him understand that in his second term, 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, taking the fight to the narco-traffickers, which fuels, provides a lot of the economic engine for the insurgents," Jones said.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the Afghan government was informed of Obama's impending trip on Thursday.


Image: Obama speaks with the troops at Bagram Air Force Base in Kabul
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters
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Obama arrived at the Bagram Air Force Base at 7.25 pm local time after 12-hour-46-minutes nonstop overnight flight from Andrews Air Force Base.

Shortly after landing, he met Gen Stanley McChrystal, the US and North Atlantic Treatuy Organisation Commander in Afghanistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan.

From the Bagram Air Force Base, Obama went to the Presidential Palace in Kabul on a helicopter.

According to a White House pool report, Obama and Karzai emerged from the presidential palace along red carpet to parade grounds in middle of palace complex.

After the respective national anthems were played, the two Presidents stepped down from platform and reviewed troops. Whole welcoming ceremony lasted about 10 minutes.

Soon thereafter the two presidents had one-o-one meeting.

Later on Obama was joined by Jones, Eikenberry and the Deputy National Security Advisor, McDonough.

Following that meeting the session was broadened for 45 minute meeting with Karzai's Cabinet.

Obama had ordered the surge in US forces in Afghanistan by 30,000 troops in December to join the fight against a well-entrenched Taliban insurgency and set a date of mid-2011 to begin their withdrawal.


Image: The US president meets with troops at Bagram Air Force Base in Kabul
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters
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The US president, during his brief stay, met American forces based in Afghanistan and US officials.

Obama had gone to Kabul in 2008 as a Senator ahead of the election when he was very critical of the Afghan leadership.

The US president has made known his frustration with the direction of the Karzai government and used the occasion to convey Washington's concerns, particularly on the activities of Taliban and the Al Qaeda elements.

Gibbs said Obama wanted to get an "on the ground update" about the eight-year-old war from Gen Stanley McChrystal, commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan. Obama left his Camp David retreat in Maryland unannounced late on Saturday and flew non-stop through the night aboard Air Force One, landing at Bagram air base just north of Kabul.

This is Obama's second trip to a war zone as Commander In Chief and comes nearly a year after a similarly unannounced secret trip to Baghdad.

During his meeting with Karzai, Obama put across the urgency to crack down on corruption, and make a concerted effort in improving the judicial system and governance. Obama said Afghanistan has made progress in the military campaign against insurgents and improved services to Afghans, reports AP from Kabul.

The White House said later than Karzai will come to Washington on May 12 for more talks.

The US and NATO have about 1.21 lakh troops in Afghanistan which will go up to over 1.5 lakh with the additional 30,000 US troops by August as part of the reworked strategy to stop the Taliban momentum and seek an early end to the war.

Obama's meeting with Karzai comes two weeks after he held a video call with the Afghan leader during which he discussed the war on the Taliban and steps taken towards eliminating corruption.


Image: US troops listen to Obama during his visit to Bagram Air Base in Kabul
Photographs: Jim Young/Reuters
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