Kabul, Afghanistan — Barack Obama visited Saturday with U.S. troops and Afghan officials in this war-weary nation, which is the focal point of his proposed strategy for dealing with threats to the U.S. if elected president.
While officially a part of a congressional delegation on a fact-finding tour expected to take him to Iraq, Obama was traveling Saturday amid the publicity and scrutiny accorded a likely Democratic nominee for president rather than a senator from Illinois. Security was tight and media access to Obama was limited by his campaign, and his itinerary in the war zones was a closely guarded secret.
The official visit, whose timing was kept secret because of security concerns, dovetails with Obama's much-hyped campaign-funded trip next week to meet with U.S. allies in Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and England, and with the Palestinians.
Obama, dressed in light khaki colored trousers and a checkered shirt with his sleeves rolled up, and others in the delegation received a briefing inside the U.S. base in Jalalabad from the Afghan provincial governor of Nangarhar, Gul Agha Sherzai, a no-nonsense, bullish former warlord.
"Obama promised us that if he becomes a president in the future, he will support and help Afghanistan not only in its security sector but also in reconstruction, development and economic sector," Sherzai told The Associated Press.
The area where the meeting took place is not far from where Osama bin Laden escaped U.S. troops in 2001 after his al-Qaida terrorist group led the attacks on Sept. 11. With the ousted Taliban regime resurgent and given the al-Qaida goal of terrorizing the U.S., Obama has argued that the war in Afghanistan deserves more attention as well as more troops.
Obama's first overseas tour since securing the Democratic nomination - he is scheduled to travel to Europe through next week - could be key to honing his foreign policy strategy with less than four months before the election. His rival for the presidency, Republican Sen. John McCain, has criticized Obama for not spending more time in the region and for developing a policy without more firsthand knowledge.
In that vein, Obama was expected to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai today.