Obama Signs Afghan Pact During Surprise Visit to Kabul

Posted May 2nd, 2012 at 3:50 am (UTC-5)
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U.S. President Barack Obama marked the one year 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 to Americans late Tuesday from an air base halfway around the world, Mr. Obama said the U.S. could “see the light of a new day on the horizon” after traveling “through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war.”

The president said “neither Americans nor Afghans asked for this war,” but he said the goal of destroying al-Qaida is within reach.

During he seven hours on the ground Wednesday, Mr. Obama met with his Afghan counterpart to sign a Strategic Partnership Agreement.

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 2014 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.

Nearly 3,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers have died during the Afghanistan war since the country was invaded in 2001 and its Taliban rulers ousted. The Taliban at the time had refused to handover Osama bin Laden, who had been living in Afghanistan.

After years evading capture, bin Laden was found to be living in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, where he was killed one year ago by U.S. special forces in a raid authorized by President Obama.

Scholar Nazif Shahrani of Indiana University-Bloomington tells VOA Mr. Obama has not dealt with Afghanistan's need for honest government. He says instituting political reform in the next two years will make the difference between peace and continued war.