President Obama, on his first trip to Afghanistan as commander in chief, told troops on Sunday their sacrifices are “absolutely necessary” to both America’s safety and world security, and assured them they would have the resources to fulfill their mission.
The surprise visit also marked the first time Mr. Obama has surveyed the front lines in the 8-year-old war since he ordered 30,000 more troops to the war-torn nation last fall.
Mr. Obama spoke to U.S. forces at Bagram Air Force Base after a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace in which he urged the Afghan leader to step up efforts to combat corruption and drug trafficking. But he also praised strides the country has made on security and civilian services such as electricity.
The trip, kept secret for security reasons, comes roughly a year after Mr. Obama made a similar surprise visit to Iraq in his first stop in a war zone as president.
He told U.S. forces in Afghanistan that he has “no greater honor than serving as your commander in chief,” and said the entire country is thankful for their efforts.
“I will never send you into harm’s way unless it’s absolutely necessary. I anguish in thinking about the sacrifices that so many of you make,” he said, promising that he would ensure U.S. troops had a clear mission and the resources necessary to complete it.
Despite the biting partisanship of recent politics, Mr. Obama stressed that both parties are united in their support of the troops.
“I want you to understand this there’s no daylight when it comes to support of all of you,” he said. “There’s no daylight when it comes to supporting our troops. That brings us together. We are all incredibly proud.”
Mr. Obama promised to turn U.S. attention back to Afghanistan when he took office, saying the United States had focused on Iraq at the expense of the Afghan war, where rural provinces still are besieged by Taliban insurgents.
In one of the biggest decisions of his young presidency, Mr. Obama in December bucked some lawmakers in his own party and called for a surge in U.S. forces in Afghanistan, bringing the total number of troops to 100,000. At the same time, he said America would start withdrawing soldiers in 2011.
According to an Associated Press tally, 945 members of the U.S. military have died since the 2001 invasion. Americans remain divided on the war effort. A CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Friday showed 44 percent saying things are going well, with 43 percent saying they are going badly. At the same time, that’s a 23-point jump in optimism since November, CNN said.
Western confidence in Mr. Karzai was undermined by a messy presidential election last year. After the country’s independent election watchdog said more than a million ballots cast were fraudulent, Mr. Karzai issued a decree taking control of the five-member elections panel.
In addition to meeting with Afghan leaders, Mr. Obama met with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and U.S. Ambassador Karl W. Eikenberry. He was accompanied by several White House aides, including National Security Adviser James L. Jones and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.
Mr. Karzai plans to visit the United States in May at the request of Mr. Obama.