Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Obama thanks U.S. troops in surprise visit to Afghanistan

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — President Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday for an unannounced visit to mark Memorial Day with U.S. troops, now in the final months of America's longest war, and to begin final discussions over the size of the U.S. force that will remain beyond the end of the year.

Inside a cavernous hangar with a tennis-court-sized American flag as a backdrop, Obama told a raucous audience of about 3,000 U.S. troops that the American public "stands in awe of you," grateful for their service and united in support of veterans as they return home.

"For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan," Obama said to roars, adding that at the end of the year, "America's war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.

"That progress is because of you," he said, "and the more than half a million Americans in the military who have served here in Afghanistan."

Obama departed Washington on Saturday night under cover of darkness and arrived at this U.S. base outside Kabul, the capital, under the same secrecy. It was his fourth trip to Afghanistan as president and his first in two years.

The visit lasted less than four hours. But it came at a crossroads moment for Afghanistan's political transition as the long tenure of President Hamid Karzai winds down and for the Obama administration's postwar strategy, which advisers say he will begin describing publicly in the coming weeks.

Obama met first with Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, and Ambassador James Cunningham to receive a battlefield update and discuss the civilian and military resources needed here after this year to continue training Afghan forces and to assist in specific counterterrorism missions.

Obama will begin outlining those plans Wednesday in a speech at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where he intends to trace the broader shift under way, more than a decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, from an American wartime foreign policy to a postwar one.

"We are at a bit of a turning point in our foreign policy generally," Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, told reporters aboard Air Force One. "Our foreign policy is going to be a lot different than it has been over the past decade, and the president will speak to what that transition will mean."

A transition is also under way in Afghanistan, which is in the midst of the first democratic transfer of power in the country's long history.

Obama did not meet with Karzai, with whom he has had a stormy relationship, but they spoke by phone for about 20 minutes before Obama left Bagram. A senior administration official said Obama praised Karzai for progress being made by Afghan security forces and for his country's successful first-round election in April and said he continued to support Afghan-led peace negotiations with the Taliban.

For the most part, Obama is biding his time until Karzai's tenure, which has spanned the post-Sept. 11 period, ends this summer. The country's presidential election in April produced two finalists — former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and onetime World Bank economist Ashraf Ghani — who are scheduled for a runoff June 14. Administration officials said before the visit began that Obama would not inject himself into the runoff campaign by meeting with either candidate or discussing the race.

"We are mindful that we are in the middle of an election season," Rhodes said. But he added that Obama's visit was meant, in part, to assure the Afghan public that "no matter what happens, we have an enduring commitment to Afghanistan."

Obama and his military command are eager for the election to be resolved. The winner will be asked immediately to sign a security agreement that will help determine how many U.S. forces, now numbering about 33,000, will remain in Afghanistan after the end of the year. The number could range as high as 10,000 troops to meet what Rhodes said would be a twin training and counterterrorism mission.

Karzai confounded Obama last year by refusing to sign the agreement after months of negotiation, saying that such a significant step should be left to his successor. Both Abdullah and Ghani have stated publicly that they intend to sign within days of taking office, probably in July.

Obama said the signing would allow planning to begin for a "limited" military presence beyond the end of the year.

The public centerpiece of Obama's visit was his address to U.S. troops, who were entertained beforehand by country music star Brad Paisley. Paisley, who traveled aboard Air Force One for the visit and who has performed at the White House for veterans and their families in the past, called the event "the honor of my life."

A Karzai spokeswoman, Adela Raz, said that the U.S. Embassy tried to arrange a meeting during Obama's visit to Bagram but that the Afghan president declined. Raz said Karzai invited Obama to the presidential palace instead.

A bilateral meeting was not planned, the White House said in a statement, because the trip was "focused on thanking our troops."

 
Comments
New Yorker magazine apologizes to combat-wounded Pasco veteran over staffer’s Tweet

New Yorker magazine apologizes to combat-wounded Pasco veteran over staffer’s Tweet

The New Yorker magazine has apologized to a combat-wounded Pasco County veteran about a tweet posted by one of its staffers.Over the weekend, New Yorker staffer Talia Lavin wrote in a tweet that a tattoo on the left elbow of Justin Gaertner looked li...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Top 5 at noon: Spectrum’s new service to increase TV costs; guide to St. Pete Pride 2018; and more

Top 5 at noon: Spectrum’s new service to increase TV costs; guide to St. Pete Pride 2018; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com.SPECTRUM’S NEW SERVICE WILL EVENTUALLY INCREASE THE COST FOR TVSpectrum’s new all-digital service is set to bring more high definition, faster internet speeds and expanded on-demand offerings ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

A Lakeland man and his girlfriend face charges of first-degree murder and aggravated manslaughter in the death of his 6-year-old daughter last week.Larry Lewis Golden Jr., 26, Breonna B. Wren, 21, were arrested Friday and are being held without bail ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

Salary-cap increase makes for ‘more fun’ NHL offseason

Thanks, Vegas. That’s what NHL general managers are saying this offseason after the Stanley Cup Final run of the expansion Golden Knights contributed to what’s expected to be a healthy increase for the salary cap. With elite center John Tavares, No. ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Drugs at your doorstep: CVS will deliver prescriptions to your home

Drugs at your doorstep: CVS will deliver prescriptions to your home

CVS Health will make prescription deliveries nationwide to accommodate the heightened expectations of convenience from consumers. The nation’s second-largest drugstore chain says it also will make home deliveries of other items, like allergy medicine...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tech Data sending a record 700 employees to march in Pride Parade

Tech Data sending a record 700 employees to march in Pride Parade

Among the marching bands and twirlers at Saturday’s St. Pete Pride Parade, one major sponsor, Tech Data, is sending by far a record number of employees — more than 700 at last count — to march in Florida’s largest gay pride parade.The parade, which d...
Updated: 2 hours ago
They usually avoid controversy, but every living first lady has condemned border separations

They usually avoid controversy, but every living first lady has condemned border separations

Every living first lady - including Melania Trump - has condemned the policy of separating immigrant families caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. It is a rare moment of bipartisan unity from the women who make up the small sorority of p...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay boys soccer players of the year

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay boys soccer players of the year

Hillsborough player of the year: F Eric Ugarte, Sr., Plant CityThe numbers: Ugarte scored 21 goals and added 11 assists to lead the Raiders to their first state title in soccer. He scored 71 goals in his career.Something about Eric: The skilled ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays continue to struggle in close games

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays continue to struggle in close games

The Rays blow a four-run lead in Houston and lose on a walkoff hit to the Astros in the opener of their three-game series. It's the 19th one-run loss for the Rays this season as they continue to struggle in close games. Fortunately, reinforcements ar...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay girls soccer players of the year

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay girls soccer players of the year

Pinellas Player of the Year: MF Mary Raymond, Jr., Palm Harbor UniversityThe numbers: Raymond scored 13 goals and added seven assists. She spent the first part of the season as the central defender.Something about Mary: Raymond is the type of pl...
Updated: 3 hours ago