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Obama’s surprise Afghanistan trip begins life after health care

President Obama began life after health care reform Sunday with a surprise trip to Afghanistan.

That Mr. Obama had never before made a trip as president to Afghanistan – the place where he is sending 30,000 additional troops – was partly a result of bad weather foiling previous plans, officials said. But just as much, it was in indication of how all-consuming the president’s drive for health care reform had become.

Once called the “forgotten war” when eclipsed by Iraq under President Bush, Afghanistan still has been consigned mostly to the political margins even under Obama – with the notable exception of his months-long debate over whether to send more troops.

The Afghanistan visit Sunday, together with a coming address on the economy Friday, points to a great exhale as the administration and the media broaden their focus from health care reform to the other issues facing the country.

Between two offensives
In the case of Afghanistan, the visit comes amid the effort by US and coalition forces to clear the Taliban from strategic areas of the south.

In recent years, the Taliban has drawn its strength from the southern provinces of Kandahar, its birthplace, and Helmand, the center of the opium trade and one major source of the Taliban’s funding. Last month’s Marjah offensive targeted Helmand. A Kandahar offensive is expected by summer.

Yet the purpose of Obama’s visit appears to be a pep talk for the Afghan government as much as American forces.

The Marjah offensive showed the military’s ability to drive the Taliban out of areas where they have held sway for years. But the job of making Marjah safe depends on the Afghan government establishing the rule of law and basic services there – something only now under way.

Obama’s message: end corruption
In this task, corruption is perhaps the greatest enemy of US efforts.

“Progress will continue to be made … but we also want to make progress on the civilian front,” Obama said after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, according to the Associated Press, referring to anti-corruption efforts, good governance, and adherence to the rule of law. “All of these things end up resulting in an Afghanistan that is more prosperous and more secure.”

US National Security Advisor James Jones emphasized this, telling reporters that Obama implored Mr. Karzai to “battle the things that have not been paid attention to almost since Day 1.”

The visit also comes as the US steps up pressure on militant groups that support the Afghan insurgency from Pakistan. US drones recently launched six missile strikes in 11 days in the Pakistani border area of North Waziristan, home of the anti-American, Al Qaeda-linked Haqqani network. Another anti-American, Al Qaeda-linked militant outfit based in Pakistan, Hizb-i-Islami Gulbuddin, is in peace talks with the Afghan government.

Leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former prime minister of Afghanistan during the years of civil war after the fall of the Soviet regime in the early 1990s, has vowed to lay down arms if foreign forces leave by the end of the year.

Little progress is expected in the talks.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/29/2010 - 01:14 pm.

    From empire to umpire…are we slipping down from a game of chess to one of musical chairs in the Mid-East?

    Consider that China is not too happy with our cozy relationship with Russia, signing that non- nuclear proliferation treaty mutually cutting back on weapon storage etc…even though all the lumps haven’t been worked out yet…

    Then back with Karzai in Afghanistan who did some marathon travel ventures on his own, preempting and motivating Obama to take a hop and a skip to Kabul on Sunday….Karzai let his wing-tips do the walking to China earlier last week…then to Iran on thursday…for Spring is the time for ‘ceremonial festivals’ I suppose?

    Looks like Karzai has forgotten who owes what to whom…all the money and dead Marines and Special Forces we have invested to support our ‘full spectrum dominance’ when pipelines in the making are seriously up for grabs?

    You could say Obama made the trip primarily to boost the troops before sending a whole lot more…but I agree with MK Bhadrakumar over at (“Karzai, China-Iran…”)but primarily it was to talk to Karzi…maybe even shake the fellow a little by the nape of his green robes, telling him in not totally diplomatic rhetoric to get his butt over to Washington soon for more serious talks. At least I hope Obama socked it to him this time..

    Surely I’m stretching the unknown dialogue here…but read MK Bhadrakumar yourself; another more in-depth perspective…it’s no more pawns, kings nor bishops. It’s musical chairs now and we could be losing our seat.

    Bring our military home and start finding home-grown energy sources here. Clean ones so we don’t dirty up the land any more than we have already? is a good alternative view?

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