May 25, 2014
(Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan) President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan for a Memorial Day weekend rally with US troops.
Air Force One touched down at Bagram Airfield under cover of darkness Sunday, having quietly left the Washington area Saturday night.
Obama is expected to get an on-site briefing from his military commanders and visit wounded servicemembers at a hospital on the base.
The centerpiece of the trip is a rally with some of the 32,000 Americans who are currently serving in Afghanistan–a war the president is committed to winding down by year’s end. A performance by country music star Brad Paisley, who traveled with the president, will set the tone for the event, expected to be long on thanks for the troops and short on foreign policy pronouncements.
The show of support for men and women in uniform comes as Obama is trying to tamp down criticism at home over the treatment of veterans seeking care at VA hospitals. In his weekly address Saturday, the president said the nation must work harder to ensure that military veterans get the benefits they’ve earned. “They’ve done their duty,” he said, “and they ask nothing more than that this country does ours.”
On Wednesday, Obama is set to deliver the commencement address at the US Military Academy at West Point. That’s the setting where in 2009 he announced a troop surge that pushed US force levels in Afghanistan to a peak of 100,000, while also setting a timetable for withdrawal. The president now has to decide whether any US troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014, with the limited mission of supporting Afghan forces and battling terrorists. Any such residual force is contingent on agreement from the next Afghan president.