Obama makes surprise trip to Afghanistan to visit troops

Lindsay Wise

President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Sunday to visit for a few hours with U.S. troops.

Air Force One landed at Bagram Air Field at 8:17 p.m. local time after the president quietly left the White House Saturday night. Press traveling with him had to agree to keep the trip a secret until after they landed in Afghanistan.

The president plans to speak to service members at Bagram and meet with wounded troops at a military hospital there. Country music star Brad Paisley, who accompanied Obama on the 13 hour flight, will entertain the troops beforehand.

Obama also will meet with Ambassador James Cunningham and Gen. Gen Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who will give him a battlefield update and discuss plans for the U.S. role in Afghanistan after combat troops depart at the end of this year.

White House spokesman Ben Rhodes said the visit would help the president determine what kind of post-war presence the U.S. should have in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has so far failed to sign a bilateral security agreement that would permit some U.S. military forces to remain in Afghanistan after 2014. Two candidates competing in the country's run-off elections, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have both indicated they would sign it.

Obama will not meet with Karzai or either of the runoff candidates while in Afghanistan, Rhodes said.

The president's trip_his fourth to Afghanistan_coincides with Memorial Day weekend and precedes a foreign policy speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point scheduled for Wednesday in New York.

Rhodes said the controversy at the Department of Veterans Affairs did not factor into the timing of the Afghanistan trip, but he said Obama's message to troops will stress the importance of taking care of veterans after they return home, as did the presidentÂ’s weekly radio address on Saturday.

By Lindsay Wise
McClatchy Washington Bureau