Obama Presses Karzai To Root Out Corruption
MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:
And now to President Obama's surprise trip to Afghanistan over the weekend. He's back in Washington, after a whirlwind six hours on the ground there. In the Afghan capital, he met with President Hamid Karzai and other leaders, pressing an agenda of change for the Karzai government. And he brought a thank you message for the troops at Bagram Air Base.
President BARACK OBAMA: The politics back home may look a little messy, and people are yelling and hollering Democrats this, and Republicans that. I want you to understand this: There's no daylight when it comes to support of all of you. There's no daylight when it comes to supporting our troops.
KELLY: This was his first visit to Afghanistan as commander-in-chief. NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley flew with the president halfway around the world and back, and has just landed here in our studios in Washington.
Welcome back, Scott.
SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you.
KELLY: All right. So, short day in Afghanistan. Give us the highlights.
HORSLEY: Well, certainly, the emotional highlight was that meeting with U.S. troops at Bagram. The president bounded into a temporary hangar wearing a bomber jacket, and a huge cheer went up from the 2,000 or so troops who were gathered there. Everyone had their cell phones out, trying to take pictures of the commander-in-chief. The president also met with some wounded soldiers and had somewhat more casual interaction with the troops around a midnight mess hall.
But equally important is that meeting that you mentioned with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. We were told that going into that meeting, the president had a pretty serious directive for his Afghan counterpart, that the government there really needs to do more to match up to the military measures that are being taken, in terms of rooting out corruption and building a credible government out in the countryside.
KELLY: Now, in terms of the military measures, this visit, of course, comes as the U.S. and its allies there are gearing up for a big push they were anticipating in Kandahar. Was the president able to get a sense of how it's going, progress in the overall war effort?
HORSLEY: He did have a face-to-face, sort of on-the-ground update from the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, as well the U.S. ambassador there, Karl Eikenberry. Now, of course, he gets updates on a regular basis, even when he's here in Washington. He gets weekly reports about how the U.S. doing in meeting up with its various metrics.
But it's - you know, there's no substitute for an on-the-ground assessment, a face-to-face with the commanders. And General McChrystal has said, in particular, that that assault on Kandahar that we expect coming up in the near future is going to be the test of whether this new strategy that the president has put in place is working in Afghanistan.
KELLY: Now, the White House always is keeping an eye on how things play here, play back home in the States. And this visit comes after a big week for the president. He finally got health care done. He managed to get a big treaty agreed - an arms control treaty with Russia that he'd been working on for some time. Big week. He's kind of on a roll. Was this visit timed at all to take advantage of that momentum?
HORSLEY: Well, what the White House is saying is this was a trip that they'd had sort of on the drawing board. They tried to do it a couple of times before, that weather or logistics had interfered. They'd wanted to do it since the president announced his big troop build up back in early December. But deliberate or not, the talking certainly suggests that this White House is not going to take a breather after its big victory on heath care, but intends to press forward with the other elements of the president's agenda.
KELLY: Last thing, Scott. It's pretty amazing, actually, that the president of the Unite States can fly halfway around the world and back and have it all remain such a secret. I gather even the Afghan government did not know he was coming until pretty late in the planning stages.
HORSLEY: That's right. And that's when news organizations were first told, on Thursday. Reporters, of course, were sworn to secrecy. We used a different gate than we usually do getting to Andrews Air Force base. We were told to carpool, so there wouldn't be a conspicuous number of cars. When Air Force One took off, it had its shades drawn so that it would be a little less visible. And, of course, when we arrived in Afghanistan and when we departed early this morning, it was all under cover of darkness.
KELLY: All right. Scott, thanks very much.
HORSLEY: Great to be with you.
KELLY: That's NPR's White House correspondent, Scott Horsley.