In Kabul, Obama and Karzai sign pact on U.S. aid to Afghanistan
KABUL -- President Obama arrived late Tuesday in Afghanistan on a previously unannounced visit to sign a long-term partnership with President Hamid Karzai.
The pair signed the agreement at the presidential palace in Kabul shortly after Obama's arrival, the Associated Press reported.
Obama landed at Bagram air base north of the capital shortly before midnight and was greeted by senior American officials including U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker before traveling by helicopter into the Afghan capital to meet with Karzai.
Crocker and Afghan counterparts just over a week earlier had initialed a draft text of the so-called strategic partnership agreement, laying down the terms of American aid to Afghanistan for a decade after the Western combat role ends in Afghanistan.
Few Afghans were aware of the president’s arrival, unless awakened by the thunder of choppers over the darkened city as Obama flew into the capital. The trip appeared aimed mainly at an American audience, coinciding with the raid one year ago that killed Osama bin Laden -- a key symbolic moment in a decade-long war.
The presidential visit comes less than a month before a NATO summit in Chicago aimed at charting a course for a Western military drawdown -- but is also meant to provide assurances of continued engagement with the Afghan government.
NATO forces have been gradually handing over swaths of territory to the Afghan security forces, a process that is to be largely completed in the coming year. But the insurgency has made its presence known with high-profile attacks, most recently two weeks ago when the capital was paralyzed by a series of coordinated strikes on targets including Western embassies and the Afghan parliament.
Obama last visited Afghanistan in December 2010, a visit that like this one was unannounced and took place under cover of darkness.
-- Laura King