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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Obama In Afghanistan.....Update

Update: Obama Comes to Kabul

Jake Tapper, ABC News

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan, at around 3 a.m. ET Saturday morning on an official CODEL, or congressional delegation trip abroad.

Accompanied by Sens. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., Obama's flight left Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, D.C., shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday. The plane stopped in Kuwait, where Obama visited troops.

In general, the trip has been shrouded in secrecy for security reasons, with the exception of when Obama's opponent, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told donors at a fundraiser at the Detroit Athletic Club that "I believe that either today or tomorrow, I am not privy to his schedule, Sen. Obama will be landing in Iraq with some other senators. There will be a congressional delegation and I am sure that Sen. Obama is going to arrive in Baghdad in a much, much safer and secure environment than the one that he would have encountered before we started the surge."

On Thursday, Obama flew from Chicago’s Midway Airport to Washington’s Reagan National Airport. That plane had been sitting under a hot sun so cabin temperature seemed to be in the 90s, with sweat trickling down the faces of Obama's accompanying Secret Service agents.

“We’re just easing you into it,” Obama told them.

After landing, a reporter asked Obama what he hoped to learn from his trip.

“Well, I’m looking forward to seeing what the situation on the ground is,” he said. “I want to, obviously, talk to the commanders and get a sense, both in Afghanistan and in Baghdad of, you know, what the most, their biggest concerns are. And I want to thank our troops for the heroic work that they’ve been doing.”

Asked if he planned to relay some tough talk to Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, he said, "I’m more interested in listening than doing a lot of talking. And I think it is very important to recognize that I’m going over there as a U.S. Senator. We have one president at a time, so it’s the president’s job to deliver those messages.”

Obama is being accompanied on his trip to Iraq and Afghanistan by his Senate foreign policy aide Mark Lippert, who recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq as a Naval reservist.


When he lands in Baghdad, Obama will apparently hear some conflicting messages. As ABC News' Martha Raddatz has reported, U.S. commanders on the ground are quite skeptical of Obama's plan to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. As Raddatz reported, several commanders told ABC News, on background, that there was "no way" the Obama plan for withdrawal could work logistically.

Today in Der Spiegel, however, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says U.S. troops should leave Iraq "as soon as possible, as far as we are concerned." He then continued: "U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama is right when he talks about 16 months."

He added, "So far the Americans have had trouble agreeing to a concrete timetable for withdrawal, because they feel it would appear tantamount to an admission of defeat. But that isn't the case at all. If we come to an agreement, it is not evidence of a defeat, but of a victory, of a severe blow we have inflicted on al-Qaida and the militias."

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, told The Associated Press today that there are indications al-Qaida's senior leaders are diverting fighters from the war in Iraq to the Afghan frontier.

And of course we have yesterday's news from the White House that the U.S. and Iraq have agreed to seek "a general time horizon" for deeper reductions in American combat troops in Iraq.

But a general departure horizon, or whatever, is not a hard and firm timeline, as British Prime Minister Gordon Brown underscored for reporters in Baghdad today, per Bloomberg News.

“It is certainly our intention that we reduce our troops, but I am not going to set out an artificial timetable,” Brown said after a meeting with Maliki.

The sun now sets on the erstwhile British Empire; the UK has reduced its troop presence in Iraq from 40,000 to the 4,000 or so soldiers at an airbase in Basra where they support Iraqis.

Brown said "building blocks for the future" -- political progress, Iraqi security force training, economic reconstruction -- must be accomplished before troop withdrawal. "It's absolutely crucial we complete these tasks,'' Brown said.

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