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Obama Surprises Troops in Afghanistan; Weather Scrubs Karzai Visit

December 3, 2010 at 4:08 PM EDT
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President Obama talked up military progress against the Taliban Friday during a surprise visit with troops in Afghanistan. Amid strains in the relationship between their two governments, he phoned Afghan leader Hamid Karzai after weather canceled a face-to-face meeting. Judy Woodruff has the story.
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JIM LEHRER: President Obama talked up military progress on the war front today, but economic progress on the home front was harder to come by.

Judy Woodruff begins our coverage with the commander-in-chief’s visit to U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The president arrived unannounced at Bagram Airfield for a visit of a little over four hours, his second trip there since taking office.

He was greeted and then briefed by General David Petraeus, the overall NATO commander in Afghanistan, and Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador. Mr. Obama talked with Afghan President Hamid Karzai by phone. The U.S. and Afghan officials said bad weather forced them to cancel plans for a face-to-face session in Kabul.

After visiting with wounded warriors in the base hospital, it was on to a crowd of waiting service men and women.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, commander, International Security Assistance Force: The president of the United States of America, our commander in chief, President Barack Obama.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: More than 3, 500 U.S. troops stood cheering in a Bagram airplane hangar.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We said we were going to break the Taliban’s momentum. And that’s what you’re doing. You’re going on the offense, tired of playing defense, targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their strongholds.

We will never let this country serve as a safe haven for terrorists who would attack the United States of America again. That will never happen.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JUDY WOODRUFF: This trip came a year after the president decided to deploy another 30,000 Americans to Afghanistan, raising the total to 100,000.

BARACK OBAMA: We could not protect the American people, we could not enjoy the blessings of our liberty without the extraordinary service that each and every one of you perform each and every day.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The trip occurs at a tough moment for already strained Afghan-U.S. relations. State Department cables leaked by the website WikiLeaks this week show American diplomats complaining of rampant corruption at the highest levels of the Afghan regime.

Some critique Karzai directly. In one 2009 dispatch, Ambassador Eikenberry details two contrasting views of the Afghan leader. “The first is of a paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation-building,” Eikenberry says. “The other is that of an ever-shrewd politician who sees himself as a nationalist hero.”

An administration review of the overall war situation is due later this month.