Obama gives upbeat Afghan message


President Barack Obama greets troops at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan (AP)

In a rousing holiday-season visit, President Barack Obama told cheering US troops in Afghanistan they are succeeding in their vital mission fighting terrorism.

But after he flew in secrecy for 14 hours to get there, foul weather kept him from nearby Kabul and a meeting to address frayed relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Mr Obama’s surprise visit to the war zone, his second as president, came 10 days before he is to address the nation about a new review of US strategy to defeat the Taliban and strengthen the Afghan government so American troops can begin leaving next year.

The trip also came at a particularly awkward moment in already strained US relations with Afghanistan because of new and embarrassing leaked cables alleging widespread fraud and underscoring deep American concerns about Mr Karzai.

There was no mention of that as the president spoke to more than 3,500 service members packed into a huge airplane hangar.

After his remarks, he spent more than 10 minutes shaking hands, going around the hangar three times as they grabbed his hand and held cameras and mobile phones high to take photos.

Mr Obama stayed on the US military base, the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division, the entire time he was there, just under four hours.

He huddled with US General David Petraeus, the top Nato commander in Afghanistan and US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

And he visited wounded soldiers at a base hospital, personally dispensing five Purple Hearts to wounded service members.

“Because of the progress we’re making, we look forward to a new phase next year, the beginning of the transition to Afghan responsibility,” Mr Obama told the troops.

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