Obama arrives in Afghanistan

July 19, 2008 12:00 am

, KABUL, July 19  – US Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan Saturday on an unannounced trip at the start of a major international tour, his campaign said.

Obama’s top aide said he would visit US soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, where nearly 70,000 international troops, the bulk of them Americans, are helping the Western-backed government fight the insurgency.

"At approximately 3:15 am Eastern (time) / 2:15 am Central, I received a phone call telling me that Senator Obama had landed at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan," said aide Robert Gibbs in a statement.

Obama is also due to visit Iraq before reaching Jordan Tuesday and then travelling on to Israel, Germany, France and Britain.

In Kabul, Afghan government and US officials would not confirm that Obama was in the country, with high-profile visits shrouded in secrecy because of security threats linked to a Taliban-led insurgency.

He was part of a congressional delegation that was expected to meet President Hamid Karzai, the BBC reported, without giving a source.

The Illinois senator has been outspoken about the need to do more to help Afghanistan as violence linked to the insurgency has worsened with some of the deadliest attacks in recent weeks.

He said in the New York Times on Monday that the United States should deploy about 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan as it downscales in Iraq.

"We need more troops, more helicopters, better intelligence-gathering and more non-military assistance to accomplish the mission there," Obama said in the newspaper.

"Iraq is not the central front in the war on terrorism, and it never has been."

In a major foreign policy address on Tuesday, Obama reiterated his promise to get most US combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months, and to focus on Al-Qaeda havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Al-Qaeda has an expanding base in Pakistan that is probably no farther from their old Afghan sanctuary than a train ride from Washington to Philadelphia," Obama said.

"We cannot tolerate a terrorist sanctuary, and as president I won’t," he said.

The insurgency that is hobbling Afghanistan’s attempts to recover from decades of war was launched after the Taliban were removed from government in late 2001 in an invasion led by the United States.

The hardliners were attacked after they refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for the 9/11 attacks that killed around 3,000 people in Washington and New York.

Insurgency-linked unrest has spiralled despite the growing might of the Afghan forces and boosted assistance from their international allies.

In one of the deadliest attacks on foreign troops, nine US soldiers were killed a week ago when about 200 insurgents stormed a base of under 100 Afghan and US troops in the northeastern province of Kunar.

Another 15 soldiers were wounded.

A week earlier, Kabul was struck by its deadliest suicide attack when a car bomb blew up outside the Indian embassy. Around 60 people were killed including two senior Indian diplomats.

In new violence Saturday, four Afghan police officers were killed and another was injured when a bomb struck their vehicle in the southern province of Kandahar, police and a medic said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the remote-controlled explosion.

"A police vehicle which was on a routine patrol struck a roadside bomb. Four policemen were killed and another one was injured," police official Khan Mohammad told AFP.

The incident took place in the province’s restive Maiwand district, which is in the area where the Taliban took up arms in the early 1990s, before sweeping into power in 1996.

Also in Kandahar, a suicide bomber blew himself up near a police post Saturday, police said. A police officer and a child were wounded, police officer Mohammad Nabi told AFP.



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