3 May 2012U.S. President Barack Obama marked the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death with a speedy trip to Afghanistan, signing a strategic pact with Kabul yesterday and delivering an election-year message to Americans that the war is winding down.
Shortly after arriving under the cover of darkness, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a strategic partnership agreement at the Afghan leader’s palace that sets out a long-term U.S. role in Afghanistan after 2014, including aid and advisers. Obama said American forces would be involved in counter-terrorism and the training of the Afghan military, “but we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains.”
“We can see the light of a new day,” he said on the anniversary of bin Laden’s death and in the midst of his own re-election campaign. “Our goal is to destroy al-Qaeda, and we are on a path to do exactly that,” Obama said, in an unusual speech to America broadcast from an air base on the other side of the world. Karzai said the U.S. pact “[was] not only not threatening any third country, including the neighboring countries, but we are hoping that this leads to stability, prosperity and development in the region.”
Taliban’s Spring Offensive Starts Today
Obama landed in Bagram in darkness, and his helicopter roared to Kabul for the meeting with Karzai under close guard, with only the outlines of the nearby mountains visible. Later, back at the base, he was surrounded by U.S. troops, shaking every hand. He ended his lightning visit with a speech delivered straight to the television camera and the voters he was trying to reach back home. Hours after Obama’s visit, the Taliban have warned they will officially start their annual “spring offensive” in Afghanistan today. The announcement comes also hours after a brazen attack on a foreigners’ housing compound in Kabul that killed seven people.
Code-named Al-Farouq, the primary targets of the offensive would be “foreign invaders, their advisors, their contractors, all those who help them militarily and in intelligence,” the militants said on their website. As Obama fights for re-election in a campaign dominated by economic issues, Obama is seeking to portray his foreign policy record as a success. His campaign team has made bin Laden’s death a key part of the argument, and the president’s visit to the country reinforces that message. However, it also opens him up to criticism from Republicans, who say Obama has politicized bin Laden’s death.
After the visit, Mitt Romney, Obama’s likely opponent in the November election, said he was “pleased” by Obama’s visit to Afghanistan. “I am pleased that President Obama has returned to Afghanistan. Our troops and the American people deserve to hear from our president about what is at stake in this war,” the Republican candidate said in a statement. “Success in Afghanistan is vital to our nation’s security.”
Romney has been critical of Obama’s foreign policy and his announced plans to draw down in Afghanistan, arguing that it encourages the Taliban insurgency there to dig in and await the departure of U.S. troops.Obama is set to start his election campaign on May 5 in Ohio and Virginia. Meanwhile, Pakistan was in a state of high alert yesterday over fears militants will launch revenge attacks on the anniversary of bin Laden’s killing.