Obama Signs Strategic Afghan Pact During Surprise Visit

Posted May 1st, 2012 at 8:25 pm (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama marked the anniversary of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden's death with a quick trip to Afghanistan, signing a strategic pact with Kabul and delivering an election-year message to the American people that the war is winding down.

In televised remarks broadcast from an air base halfway around the world, Mr. Obama said the U.S. has “traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war.” Yet, he added, “we can see the light of a new day on the horizon.”

The president told Americans the goal of destroying al-Qaida is within reach. “This time of war began in Afghanistan,” he declared, “and this is where it will end.”

He spoke after signing the Strategic Partnership Agreement with his Afghan counterpart, Hamid Karzai.

The pact 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 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.

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.”

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.

Nearly 3,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers have died during the Afghanistan war since the country was invaded in 2001 and Taliban rulers ousted.

His trip comes exactly one year after U.S. special forces, on his order, began the raid that led to the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama 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.

It was Mr. Obama's fourth trip to Afghanistan, his third as commander in chief. He was about seven hours on the ground in all, also visiting troops at a hospital at the Bagram base, awarding 10 Purple Hearts.