The White House pool report from Afghanistan, filed by Josh Gerstein of Politico:
President Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan under cover of darkness Tuesday night for a whirlwind trip scheduled to culminate with a live, televised address to the American people delivered from Bagram Air Base outside the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Strict security measures are in place, including a White House imposed embargo that prevented journalists in the pool from reporting on Obama’s travel until he arrived at the Presidential Palace at about 11:30 PM local Tuesday night.
Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are expected to sign a ten page strategic partnership agreement pledging US support for Afghanistan for a decade after 2014, when Nato forces are planning to conclude their combat role. The signing ceremony with the two presidents should paint a tableau of solidarity for an Afghan US relationship that has been stormy and at time fractious during the three years of Obama’s presidency.
Senior Administration officials said the unconventional timing of events on the trip, such as the scheduled midnight local time signing ceremony, was aimed at allowing Obama to address Americans on a schedule convenient for US television audiences. That speech, expected to run about 10 minutes, is scheduled to take place just after 730 pm ET tuesday, which is 4 AM here in Afghanistan.
Of course, the middle of the night schedule also provides the added security of darkness for the arrival and departure of AF1 and flights by helicopter from Bagram to and from a landing zone near the presidential palace. While US officials insist security has improved significantly since the US troop buildup Obama ordered at the end of 2009, there have beena series of troubling incidents in recent months including riots relating to the Qu’ran burning episode, Afghan on US troop violence, and a protracted gun and RPG battle in Kabul’s embassy district just over two weeks ago.
Karzai and Obama are expected to deliver statements at the Presidential Palace shortly. But there are no plans for a pool spray of their bilateral meeting or for the pair to field questions, WH officials said.
Senior administration officials said the timing of the trip was driven by the negotiations over the Strategic Partnership Agreement and by the desire of both presidents to sign the agreement in Afghanistan prior to the NATO summit in Chicago later this month. However, the officials also acknowledged that the timing coincides with the first anniversary of the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Obama is–is expected to mention the bin Laden raid in the televised address Tuesday evening, officials said.
Before delivering the address, Obama is expected to meet with and make a speech to US troops stationed at Bagram.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider