President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Sunday.
After an overnight flight from Washington, the president landed in Afghanistan for a stay of just a few hours, in darkness. He flew by helicopter from Bagram Airfield to the capital, where he was greeted at the presidential palace by Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, given just an hour’s notice of Obama’s arrival.
It was Obama’s second stop in a war zone as commander in chief, coming about a year after a similarly secretive trip to Iraq.
The Afghanistan trip was intended to let Obama tell Karzai that he must crack down on corruption and cut the flow of money from poppy production and drug trafficking that is sustaining the insurgency. The U.S. also wants Karzai to halt cronyism and rewards for warlords in government hiring and to create an effective, credible judicial system.
“This is something that simply has to be done,” said Obama’s national security adviser, Jim Jones.
The White House insisted Karzai’s Cabinet participate in most of the meetings with Obama, making the point that Karzai must work with his ministers.
In December, Obama ordered 30,000 additional forces into the fight against an entrenched Taliban insurgency that seeks to retake the control of Afghanistan the militant group lost when the U.S. invaded in 2001. The new troops are still arriving and most are expected to be in place by summer, for a force of about 100,000 troops. There were about 34,000 when Obama took office.
It was Obama’s second visit to Afghanistan; the first was in 2008 when, as a presidential candidate and U.S. senator, he joined an official congressional delegation.
Obama also planned to meet with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. military commander, and the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry.