US President Barack Obama landed in Afghanistan under the cover of darkness on Sunday. The surprise visit is Obama’s first time in two years. This is his fourth visit to Afghanistan as president, but his first since winning re-election in 2012.
Obama’s plans were kept secret because of fears of possible attack by the Taliban and al-Qaeda militants, despite the presence of thousands of American soldiers.
Obama landed in Bagram Air Base and has no plans to meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai or any other afghan officials.
The US has some 33,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Obama had promised to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014. But he is now seeking to keep many of them in the war-torn country beyond the withdrawal date.
The US special envoy for Afghanistan, James Dobbins, has recently said that America’s military presence in Afghanistan will remain “significant”.
“We and our allies, I think, will be prepared for a continuing advisory mission, much smaller numbers than we have there today but still significant in terms of its ability to continue to improve the quality of the Afghan security forces,” Dobbins said.
According to some reports Washington plans to keep 12,000 to 16,000 of American troops in Afghanistan till 2024. But any further US presence depends on Karzai’s successor signing a bilateral security agreement that Karzai has refused to sign.
The US has been trying to reach a security pact, called Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with the government of Afghanistan to leave a residual force in the country. Despite US pressures, President Karzai refused to sign the agreement. Washington has been saying the BSA is needed for any American troops to remain.
Karzai has been saying that the Afghan nation cannot approve the agreement without guarantees that the US will halt its deadly airstrikes on civilians.
At least 2,181 members of the US military have been killed during the nearly 13-year war in Afghanistan which is America’s longest war. Thousands more have been wounded.