BAGRAM AIR BASE, May 25 – US President Barack Obama landed in Afghanistan late Sunday on a surprise visit to salute the sacrifices of US troops in America’s longest war.
Obama slipped out of the White House after dark on Saturday and flew in secret across the globe, landing at Bagram air base outside Kabul in late evening.
He planned to meet top US military commanders and civilian leaders in Afghanistan during a short visit, but there were no plans to see Afghan President Hamid Karzai or either of the candidates in Afghanistan’s runoff presidential election.
Obama’s trip, pulled off under extraordinary security precautions, was purely devoted to spending time with troops as the United States honours its war dead on Memorial Day on Monday.
“He didn’t want to get in the middle of election season,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy US national security advisor, told reporters travelling with Obama.
The visit also came with Obama under intense political pressure at home amid allegations that possible misconduct and poor administration in the Veterans Affairs Department had left retired warriors waiting months for treatment.
Some are said to have died as a result.
Officials said Obama would not make any announcements on the size of a possible post-war NATO training force for Afghanistan.
But Rhodes said the president was keen to hear from his top commander on the ground, General Joseph Dunford, head of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham.
“It is important for him to come before he articulates a decision,” Rhodes said of the trip.
During the short stay, Obama will also tour an operations centre and visit a hospital at Bagram before making a speech to US troops and civilians.