America

In Afghanistan, Obama Hails Troops For Their Sacrifices

President Obama (at left) reaches out to troops at Bagram Air Field; Dec. 3, 2010.

hide captionAfter addressing the troops at Bagram Air Field, the president went into the crowd to shake hands.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama was in Afghanistan today — an unannounced trip that was kept secret for security purposes until he landed.

We've been updating this post as the news developed. Hit your "refresh" button to see our latest additions.

Update at 3 p.m. ET. NPR's Ari Shapiro has wrapped up the story for us, as you'll see just below. If you prefer to see how things happened, scroll down to the end of this post and read "up."

And if you're interested in hearing the president's address to the troops at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, here's the audio:

The president's address to troops in Afghanistan.

Update at 2:40 p.m. ET. Summing Up The Story.

Here's how NPR's Ari Shapiro, who was in the "pool" of reporters who traveled with the president, wraps up the day's events:

"President Obama spent a total of about three hours in Afghanistan. He was scheduled to spend about six hours, including a trip to Kabul. But instead, he stayed on Bagram Air Field the entire time he was here because of bad weather conditions that made it impossible for the helicopters to fly to Kabul and back.

"He began by meeting with his security teams here. ... He had a 15-minute phone call with (Afghan) President Hamid Karzai, who originally he was going to meet with in person. But White House officials say it's not a huge sacrifice that he was not able to meet (with Karzai) in person because they spoke for some time just a couple of weeks ago at the NATO summit in Lisbon.

"And then (Obama) visited a hospital, where he met with wounded troops and wounded civilians and gave out five Purple Hearts. Then he met with troops who had ... lost six of their comrades, just last week."

Ari Shapiro on the president's visit

Update at 1:27 p.m. ET. As he came to the end of his remarks to more than 3,800 troops at Bagram Air Field, Obama said that some ask if America's "best days lie ahead or whether our greatness stretches back behind us. ... When I look out at all of you, I know the answer to that. You give me hope and inspiration. ...

"Because of you, I know that once again we will prevail" in tough times.

Update at 1:22 p.m. ET: "Everybody is behind you" back home, Obama said to troops at Bagram Air Field.

And, he vowed, "we will never let this country serve as a safe haven" again for those who wish to attack the United States. That drew loud cheers from the troops.

Update at 1:17 p.m. ET. American military personnel, the president just told troops at Bagram Air Field, have built a great legacy for those who follow:

"When so many other institutions seem to be shirking their responsibilities, you embraced your responsibilities," he said. "That's the legacy that your generation has formed in this decade of trial."

Update at 1:14 p.m. ET. Continuing to address the more than 3,800 troops at Bagram Air Field, the president just said that:

"Americans are (now) giving thanks for all the blessings that we have. ... As we begin this holiday season, there's no place I'd rather be than here with you."

And, Obama added, he wants to "say thank you to your families back at home. ... They're serving here with you in mind and spirit if not in body."

President Obama waves as he is introduced to the troops at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. i i

hide captionPresident Barack Obama waves as he is introduced to the troops at Bagram Air Field.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Obama waves as he is introduced to the troops at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama waves as he is introduced to the troops at Bagram Air Field.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Update at 1:09 p.m. ET. The president has begun his address to troops at Bagram Air Field:

"It is great to be back and I apologize for keeping you guys up late and coming on such short notice," the president said (Afghanistan is 9 1/2 hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast).

Update at 1:06 p.m. ET: Gen. David Petraeus just introduced the president to the more than 3,800 troops he's going to address.

Obama, said Petraeus, has proved to the troops "he is available and accessible and approachable by flying half-way around the world" to see them. And, said the general, Obama has "provided us the resources that have enabled progress here in Afghanistan."

Update at 12:55 p.m. ET: It's getting close to the time when the president's due to meet with U.S. troops. As we said earlier, the event is due to be webcast here. And we'll post updates on what he has to say.

Politico notes that:

"The surprise visit comes as Obama and his national security advisers are in the middle of a review of the administration’s war strategy almost a year to the day he announced a troop surge in Afghanistan in a speech at West Point. But the White House stressed that the main point of Obama’s trip is for him to thank the troops for their service, particularly during the holiday season."

From Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, NPR's Ari Shapiro tells us that Obama spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai by telephone for about 15 minutes. The president met with Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry for about 40 minutes.

And, Obama spent about 40 minutes visiting wounded U.S. personnel. He awarded five Purple Hearts.

Update at 12:25 p.m. ET. A brief recap of the news so far:

Taking off in secrecy last night from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland , President Obama flew aboard Air Force One to Bagram Air Field north of Kabul, landing there around 11 a.m. ET.

While the plan had been for him to be in Afghanistan about six hours and to fly by helicopter the 50 miles or so to Kabul for a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, rough winter weather has kept the president on the ground at Bagram. The plan now is for him to be there about three hours. He'll speak with Karzai by phone. White House officials say the main purpose of the trip always was to meet with U.S. troops. That's still going to happen, around 1 p.m. ET.

Soldiers from the 101st Airborne wait for the president.

hide captionAt Bagram, soldiers wait for the president's visit.

Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Scroll down through our updates (and read "up" if you prefer) for more on the story.

Update at 12:05 p.m. ET: The White House says it's going to webcast the president's address to troops at Bagram Air Field. Click here for that. The scheduled start time: 1 p.m. ET.

Update at noon ET. More from the "pool" of reporters traveling with the president:

— The White House says planning for the trip began a month ago.

— Most of the troops the president will see are from the 101st Airborne Division.

— Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic communications Ben Rhodes told reporters on Air Force One that the president wants to "underscore" the sacrifices that military personnel and their families make, especially during the holidays.

Update at 11:44 a.m. ET. An audio report from NPR's Ari Shapiro.

As we said earlier, Ari is traveling with the president. He says Obama will talk to about 2,000 troops, meet with eight wounded Americans and that "meeting with President Karzai was not the real purpose of this trip":

NPR's Ari Shapiro, from Afghanistan

Update at 11:40 a.m. ET. A couple details from other news reports:

The New York Times Caucus blog: "His arrival came at critical juncture as he and other NATO allies are putting in place a transition plan intended to hand over control of the battlefield to Afghan forces starting in the new year with the hope of formally ending foreign combat operations there by the end of 2014."

CBS News: "It is his second trip to Afghanistan as commander in chief."

Update at 11:35 a.m. ET. The first "pool report" from correspondents traveling with the president was just sent to others in the news media. Here are a couple lines from it:

"President Obama arrived in Afghanistan at 8:35 pm. ... POTUS stepped off the plane at 8:48 pm. He was greeted by Gen. David Petreaus and Amb. Eikenberry."

Update at 11:25 a.m. ET: The president was supposed to be on the ground for six hours, NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, but strong winds and poor visibility have forced him to stay at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul (instead of going to the capital, about 40 miles away, by helicopter) and cut his visit short, to about three hours.

Still, Ari reports, White House officials say "the real purpose of the trip" was always to visit with U.S. troops and thank them for their service — and he will still be doing that.

L-R: Gen. David Petraeus, Amb. Karl Eikenberry and President Obama.

hide captionL-R: Gen. David Petraeus, Amb. Karl Eikenberry and President Obama as the commander-in-chief arrived in Afghanistan today.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

It's now about 9 p.m., local time, in Afghanistan.

Update at 11:18 a.m. ET. NPR's Ari Shapiro, who is traveling with the president, says Air Force One "took off in secrecy, in darkness ... and landed in secrecy and darkness" at Bagram Air Field north of Kabul just a short time ago. He and other correspondents did not report about the trip until the plane was safely on the ground.

Obama, Ari just reported, moments ago walked off Air Force One.

Update at 11:15 a.m. ET. The president's schedule has changed:

NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the president and just told Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep that Obama had been scheduled to fly by helicopter from Bagram Air Field outside Kabul into the capital to see Karzai.

But strong winds and bad weather changed the schedule "dramatically," Ari says. "Instead of meeting with the Afghan president in person," says Ari, they will have a video conference. President Obama will stay at Bagram.

Obama will still be speaking personally with U.S. troops, Ari reports.

Update at 11:07 a.m. ET: "Obama arrived Friday under intense security for a six-hour visit to meet with Afghanistan's president and thank U.S. troops for their sacrifices," the AP now adds.

The visit comes, of course, at a delicate time in U.S.-Afghan relations. As NPR's Jackie Northam reported on Morning Edition, "another series of diplomatic cables has been released by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks, highlighting two pervasive challenges the U.S. faces in Afghanistan: corruption and dealing with President Hamid Karzai."

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