Obama Signs Strategic Afghan Pact During Surprise Visit

Posted May 1st, 2012 at 6:45 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan Tuesday and signed a strategic partnership agreement with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai. The unannounced visit was timed to mark the first anniversary of the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

At a joint news conference with the Afghan president, Mr. Obama said “neither Americans nor Afghans asked for this war.” He said with the newly signed agreement, he is “confident the Afghan people will understand the U.S. will stand by them.”

White House officials said the pact with Kabul covers security, economics and governance and spells out the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, when most NATO forces are planning to conclude their combat role. It does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence but pledges American aid for Afghanistan for a decade after the withdrawal of the last U.S. soldiers.

The agreement allows the U.S. to keep a reduced number of troops in Afghanistan after the war ends for the continued training of Afghan forces and targeted operations against al-Qaida. The terror group is present in neighboring Pakistan but has only a nominal presence inside Afghanistan.

Senior U.S. officials told VOA the pact is part of a larger strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and defeat extremist forces in the region. They said the plan includes transitioning to an Afghan-led security force expected to peak at 352,000 Afghan troops later this year.

Another key element of the strategy involves Afghan-led reconciliation with the Taliban, which the officials said can move forward if the group breaks its ties with al-Qaida.

In remarks to U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base, Mr. Obama warned the soldiers of further hardship ahead in Afghanistan but told them “there is a light on the horizon” after more than a decade of war.

He also plans to deliver a live, televised address to the American people about the Afghanistan war at 7:30 p.m. EDT from Bagram.

The president's speech will focus on the strategic partnership agreement and is likely to emphasize his plans to wind down the costly and unpopular Afghanistan war where nearly 3,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers have died since the country was invaded in 2001.

The address will come exactly one year after U.S. special forces, on his order, began the raid that led to the killing of bin Laden at his Pakistani safehouse.

Since then, ties between the United States and Afghanistan have frayed due to the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. base and the massacre of 17 civilians, including children, allegedly by an American soldier.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to be on the ground in Afghanistan for about seven hours.