NOAH ADAMS, host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Noah Adams.
President Obama is back in Washington today. That's after a weekend trip to Afghanistan. Here's the math: 29 hours in the air, 6 hours on the ground. The quick trip comes as U.S. public support for the war is on the rise but some daunting challenges remain, both for U.S. troops and the Afghan government.
NPR's Scott Horsley accompanied Mr. Obama and filed this report.
President BARACK OBAMA: How's it going, Bagram?
(Soundbite of cheering)
SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama bounded onto a makeshift stage at Bagram Air Base wearing a brown, leather bomber jacket. He jokingly apologized for coming on such short notice. His trip had been a closely guarded secret until just a few hours earlier.
Pres. OBAMA: So, my main job here today is to say thank you on behalf of the entire American people.
(Soundbite of cheering)
HORSLEY: Springing this surprise trip gives the president a chance to capitalize on last week's health care victory at a time when U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan have been enjoying some success of their own. After clearing insurgents from the Afghan city of Marjah, American troops are now preparing for a bigger assault on Kandahar, where the Taliban movement was born and remains strong.
Pres. OBAMA: Here in Afghanistan, you've gone on the offensive. And the American people back home are noticing. We have seen a huge increase in support in - stateside because people understand the kinds of sacrifices that you guys are making and the clarity of mission that you're bringing to bear.
HORSLEY: A new CNN poll does show approval of the president's handling of the war has grown to 55 percent. And the number of people who believe the war's going badly has dropped sharply. Mr. Obama's words were reassuring to soldiers like Brian Navawanick(ph) of Oklahoma City. Navawanick knows just how long he's been serving in Afghanistan.
Mr. BRIAN NAVAWANICK (Soldier): Almost a year. Getting ready to go home. The support that he gave us made it all worth it.
HORSLEY: Four months ago, the president ordered another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. About 10,000 of those are on the ground already. And American forces are expected to peak at around 100,000 by late summer. The administration cautions, no matter how good those U.S. troops are, they can't win a lasting victory in Afghanistan without more help from the Afghan government. So, before meeting with U.S. troops, Mr. Obama traveled to Kabul to have a talk with the Afghan president.
(Soundbite of music)
HORSLEY: Hamid Karzai and a military color guard greeted Mr. Obama on a plaza outside the presidential palace, lit only by the full moon. National Security Adviser Jim Jones says Mr. Obama had a straightforward message for Karzai.
Mr. JIM JONES (National Security Adviser): To make him understand that there are certain things that he has to do as the president of his country. Things that have been not paid attention to almost since day one, and that is things like battling corruption, taking the fight to the narco traffickers.
HORSLEY: These are not new goals. Asked if Karzai is an adequate strategic partner for the U.S., Jones replied only that he's our partner. Still, the administration sees some encouraging signs and President Obama did invite Karzai to Washington for additional talks in May. Jones says this is an important year for Afghanistan, and the upcoming battle in Kandahar could be a turning point.
Mr. JONES: The success in Kandahar at some point this year will be the benchmark by which we measure whether we have reversed the momentum.
HORSLEY: Flying into Kabul after sundown Sunday, the president said he could see one sign of progress more outdoor lights, indicating an increase in the production of electricity. It was still dark early this morning when Mr. Obama left Afghanistan, a country still not safe enough for an American president to hang around in the daylight.
Scott Horsley, NPR News.
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