Obama Makes Unannounced Visit To Afghanistan
LIANE HANSEN, Host:
NPR's Scott Horsley is traveling with the president. He joins us now. And, Scott, security on this trip is obviously tight. Afghanistan, after all, is a war zone. How did the White House keep it a secret that Mr. Obama was coming?
SCOTT HORSLEY: Liane, the cover story for the president was that he was spending this weekend at Camp David. The Air Force One was kept inside its hangar. He was ordered inside the hangar, instead of out on the tarmac where it would be visible last night. And took off for Afghanistan a little after 10 PM Eastern Time, flew all night and arrived after sunset at the Bagram airbase, and then flew under cover of darkness to Kabul, for the meeting with President Karzai.
HANSEN: Now, the president met one-on-one with Hamid Karzai and his cabinet. How would you describe the relationship between these two leaders? And, well, what's President Obama's agenda there?
HORSLEY: That means rooting out corruption, taking the fight to the narco traffickers and beginning to build a credible government outside the capital of Kabul.
HANSEN: Now, I suppose the president is going to take a somewhat different tone when he addresses the American troops.
HORSLEY: Yes. I think if the session with Hamid Karzai is perhaps a little bit stern, the message for the U.S. troops will be more of a pep rally. The president is expected to meet with about 2,000 members of the 82nd Airborne Division, who have been in Afghanistan for the better part of a year now. And it'll likely be a pretty exciting session at Bagram airbase. The message there from the president is essentially to thank the troops for their service here. And then he is also expected to perhaps meet with some wounded soldiers at the airbase.
HANSEN: In talking about U.S. troops service there, those in Afghanistan along with their Afghan allies, had a very big push this winter in Marjah, to rid the area of Taliban forces and try to start to establish a credible government in the region. Is it possible to say what's next?
HORSLEY: At the same time, the U.S. forces are looking ahead to sort of the next big push, and that is in the southern city of Kandahar, the city that gave birth to the Taliban and where Taliban sympathizers still have a formidable presence. General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has said that Kandahar will really be the test. It will be the measuring stick to decide whether this new strategy that the U.S. is pursuing in Afghanistan is working. And we expect that decision to be made before the end of the year.
HANSEN: NPR's White House correspondent Scott Horsley, he joined us on the line from Afghanistan, where President Obama arrived today on an unannounced visit. Scott, thank you very much.
HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Liane.
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