Obama Wants At Least A Small Troop Presence In Afghanistan

President Obama made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Sunday — his first since 2012. Since that time, U.S. troop levels there have been cut by about two-thirds.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Let's hear what it sounds like to make a whirlwind visit to Afghanistan.

GREENE: President Obama dropped in on Bagram Air Base outside of Kabul. He listened to military commanders.

INSKEEP: He met with hospital caregivers.

GREENE: And he hosted a late-night rally.

INSKEEP: If all goes as planned, this should be the last Memorial Day in what has become America's longest war. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Air Force One touched down at Bagram Air Field after dark on Sunday following a secret overnight flight from Washington. Obama got an on-site briefing from his top military commanders and the U.S. ambassador here, then stepped into a cavernous hangar where 3,000 service members in camouflage uniforms were waiting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hello, Bagram.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Well, you know, I know it's a little late, but I was in the neighborhood - thought I'd stop by.

HORSLEY: Some 32,000 Americans are currently serving in Afghanistan, a war the president is determined to wind down by year's end. This weekend's visit was a chance for the commander-in-chief to say thanks to those troops in person.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: But I'm also here representing 300 million Americans who want to say thank you as well.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: I know sometimes when you're over here away from home, away from family, you may not truly absorb how much the folks back home are thinking about you. So I just want you to know, when it comes to supporting you and your families, the American people stand united.

HORSLEY: Obama also visited caregivers at a Bagram base hospital. The show of support for people in uniform comes as the president is trying to tamp down criticism back home over the treatment of veterans seeking care at VA hospitals.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: Helping our wounded warriors and veterans heal isn't just a promise, it's a sacred obligation.

HORSLEY: This is Obama's fourth visit to Afghanistan as president and his first since 2012. Since that time, U.S. troop levels here have been cut by about two-thirds. Obama now faces the decision over whether to leave any U.S. forces in the country beyond 2014. He made it clear he'd like to leave a small troop presence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OBAMA: Because after all the sacrifices we made, we want to preserve the gains that you have helped to win, and we're going to make sure that Afghanistan can never again, ever be used again to launch an attack against our country.

HORSLEY: Obama told commanders he expects to announce a decision on future troop levels fairly soon. That announcement could come as early as Wednesday when Obama's set to deliver the commencement address at West Point. But aides say this visit was not a time for serious policy pronouncements, the atmosphere was more like a pep rally. Country music star, Brad Paisley, who accompanied Obama on Air Force One helped provide the entertainment.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOUTHERN COMFORT ZONE")

BRAD PAISLEY: (Singing) And I've been away way too long, I can't see this world unless I go outside my southern comfort zone.

HORSLEY: Despite the celebratory mood here today, Afghanistan remains a dangerous place. After 13 years of war, too dangerous for an American president to stick around for the sunrise. Obama's plane took off from Bagram the same way it landed - with windows covered, in the dark. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.