US President Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan late Tuesday on a surprise visit, a year after American elite Navy SEALs killed al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in a raid deep inside Pakistan.
Obama met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai immediately after arriving
in Kabul and signed a strategic partnership on future US-Afghan ties once American troops have pulled out of Afghanistan in 2014, officials said.
Obama acknowledged that there will be difficult days ahead for Afghanistan, but said the Afghan people were taking control of their own future.
“The wages of war have been great for both our nations,” Obama said, adding that he looked forward to a future of peace.
Obama’s last trip in December 2010 lasted only a few hours when he flew into Bagram air base, outside Kabul, to meet US troops but he did not meet with Karzai.
Ties between Kabul and Washington have strained since last May amid a series of bloody massacres and incidents by US troops against Afghan civilians as a 130,000-strong US-led NATO force fights a fierce Taliban insurgency.
The last of the remaining 87,000 American troops in the country are due to pull out by the end of 2014.
Relations between Pakistan and the US also plunged over the May 2, 2011 raid that killed bin Laden, tracked down to a compound in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad after a decade-long global manhunt.
Al Qaeda losing ‘badly’
Obama’s top counter-terrorism aide, John Brennan, on Monday argued al Qaeda was losing “badly” amid a US drone campaign in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region, and that its core leadership would soon be “no longer relevant.”
“He confessed to ‘disaster after disaster’” for al Qaeda, Brennan said, noting some of the captured material would be published online this week by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy at West Point.
Brennan also said subsequent US operations to wipe out senior al Qaeda leaders in Pakistan had left the group reeling.
“Under intense pressure in the tribal regions of Pakistan, they have fewer places to train and groom the next generation of operatives, they’re struggling to attract new recruits … Morale is low,” Brennan said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars.
Politicising bin Laden’s death
Brennan noted Obama took the decision to go ahead with the raid against the advice of some of his most senior advisers who had reservations about the operation, which was fraught with peril for the Navy SEALS.
Senior Obama aides are clearly using the president’s decision to launch the high-risk raid as an implicit comparison to the character of his presumptive Republican rival Mitt Romney.
Obama’s campaign last week released a video to mark the anniversary and suggested bin Laden might be alive today had Romney been in the White House.
US Senator John McCain, who lost to Obama in the 2008 elections and who remains one of his most dogged critics, has said the advertisement politicised an issue that should not be fodder for November’s presidential campaign.
“Shame on Barack Obama for diminishing the memory of September 11th and the killing of Osama bin Laden by turning it into a cheap political attack ad,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.