President Barack Obama had a surprised visit to U.S. troops, this weekend, serving in the America’s longest war.
Air Force One landed at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, an overnight flight from Washington. Obama scheduled to spend a few hours on the base, however, no plans of visiting Kabul, the capital, to meet with Hamid Karzai, the fickle president who has had a tumultuous relationship with the White House.
Obama’s surprise trip came about when the U.S. and NATO withdraw most of its forces ahead of a year-end deadline. Obama plans to keep a small number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to train Afghan security forces and conduct counter terrorism missions. However, that plan depends on Karzai’s successor signing a bilateral security agreement that rejected by Karzai to authorize.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national-security adviser, said the president had not finalized the troop decision, and no announcement was expected during the Afghanistan visit. However, Rhodes indicated it was possible Obama could announce his decision during a foreign policy speech Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.
There were, at least, 2,181 members of the U.S. military have died during the nearly 13-year Afghan war, and thousands have been wounded. Currently, there are still about 32,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, reduce from 100,000 in mid-2010, when Obama sent additional soldiers to put an end with escalating violence.
This was Obama’s fourth visit to Afghanistan as president, since his first win re-election in 2012.
Rhodes said Obama was passing on a meeting with Karzai in order to avoid injecting himself into Afghanistan’s presidential elections. Karzai was given advance notice of Obama’s trip, Rhodes said, though it was unclear how far ahead of time.
Obama was to be briefed by U.S. commanders in Afghanistan, and speaks to troops at Bargram and visits wounded troops treated at a base hospital.
Obama accompanied by a few advisers, senior counselor John Podesta, whose son is serving in Afghanistan, including country singer Brad Paisley to perform for the U.S. troops.
Strict secrecy on Obama’s trip to war zones, the White House did not announce the visit in advance. Media traveling with him for the 13-hour flight had to agree to keep the trip secret until the president arrived at the air base.
Obama’s visit to Afghanistan created outrage in the United States over the treatment of America’s war veterans. More than two dozen veterans’ hospitals across American are under investigation against treatment delays and deaths, putting the VA under scrutiny. However, the agency already was struggling to keep up with the influx of forces returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq.
Obama’s foreign policy philosophy on ending the two wars he inherited from his predecessor, George W. Bush.
American troops withdrew from Iraq in the closing days of 2011, after the U.S. and Iraq failed to reach a security agreement, to keep a small skeleton force in the country. Over the years, the U.S. troops' withdrawal causes Iraq battered by resurgent waves of violence.
In order to avoid the same scenario in Afghanistan Obama’s administration officials have pressed to keep some troops in Afghanistan after 2014 to continue training the Afghan security forces and undertake counterterrorism missions.
Pentagon officials have pushed for as many as 10,000 troops while others in the administration favor as few as 5,000 troops. Obama insisted he will not keep any Americans in Afghanistan without a signed security agreement that would grant those forces immunity from Afghan law.
U.S. officials had hoped plans a post-2014 force would be well underway by this point. However, Karzai stunned U.S. officials this year by saying he would not sign the security agreement even though he helped negotiate the terms. It means that Karzai does not want to allow the deployment of international troops in his country any longer.
Karzai’s decision compounded his already tense relationship Washington’s officials who have grown increasingly frustrated by his anti-American rhetoric and decision to release prisoners over the objections of U.S. officials. Obama and Karzai have spoken just once in the past year.
Karzai, as the only president whom the Afghans have known since 2001 when U.S. led invasion to topple Taliban’s Islamic rule, was constitutionally barred from running for a third term this year. An election to choose his successor was held this month, with the top two candidates advancing to a June runoff.
Both Abdullah Abdulla, a former Foreign Minister, and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, ex-Finance Minister have promised a fresh start with the West and pledged to move ahead with the security agreement with the U.S.