Pres. Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Sunday, 28 March. Why does the media always call such visits a “surprise”? Duh! What rational highly placed person, besides Pete Hoekstra, is going to tell al-Queda and the Taliban where he’s going to be?
In his visit, Obama told US troops the war in Afghanistan is “absolutely essential”. Obama said he was humbled by the sacrifices the military makes and declared, “The USA does not quit, you do not quit…we will prevail!” In his remarks, Obama said:
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. 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.
Obama praised military progress and referenced the need for continued efforts to reduce Afghan corruption. For his part, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his country “would move forward into the future” to eventually take over its own security. National Security Adviser James Jones said the visit gave the opportunity for Obama to press the issues of halting cronyism, corruption, and narcotrafficking.
A White House official said Obama also wanted to get an “on the ground update” about the war from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander. Obama also met with Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan.
The President’s visit comes in the midst of his “surge” and at a time when US military fatalities and injuries are up. “We must steel ourselves, no matter how successful we are on any given day, for harder days yet to come,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a briefing last month. Keeping things in perspective, however, 57 US military personnel died in Afghanistan in the first two months of 2010, compared to 28 for the same period last year. There are more troops in Afghanistan and they are engaging insurgents more frequently. This is because the Taliban has become more resurgent than this time last year.
At the end of his Afghan visit, Obama told troops, “The Afghans have suffered for decades, decades of war, but we are here to help the Afghans forge a hard-won peace.”
Karzai and Obama met for almost a half-hour. Obama said he felt there was progress since a videoconference 2 weeks ago.
For his part, Karzai said he wanted to “express the gratitude of our people for the help that America has given us for the last eight years.” And he thanked US taxpayers for “the rebuilding and reestablishing the institutions in Afghanistan.”
After meetings with Karzai, other Afghan officials, and Gen. McCrystal, Obama toured Bagram Air Base and talked with US troops. He also spent some time with wounded service members at the clinic.
While the surge is showing progress, Obama went to Afghanistan to press Karzai on Afghanistan’s role. Without Afghan support and greater involvement of Afghan security forces, there can be no victory in Afghanistan. How that turns out remains yet to be seen. Still, a CNN poll shows opposition to the war in Afghanistan is down. There is a lot of work yet to be done, however, for Obama’s plan to start drawing troops down later this year to be reasonable and prudent. Otherwise it’s just politics as usual at the expense of the Afghan people and US service members and their families. This is too big a national security issue for that to be the case.