Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Obama Visit to Afghanistan on Bin Laden Death Anniversary

 President Obama arrived unannounced under the cover of darkness at Bagram Airbase, south of Kabul at 10:30pm local time.  He boarded a helicopter, which took him t Kabul, the Afghan capital.

The visit happens to coincide with the first anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden, but officials said that the visit was purely coincidental and was driven by the "Strategic Partnership Agreement, which had been negotiated approximately 20 months with officials.  President Obama is expected to address the American people at 7:30 pm Eastern Time.  He is expected to mention the death of Osama bin Laden in this evening's speech.

The President has been criticized for politicizing the Bin Laden death, especially after an attack ad was released that seemed to suggest that the President's Republican opponent would not have made that decision.  Vice President Biden made a similar comment.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement was finalized on April 22nd after 20 months of negotiations and discussions with NATO allies.

The Treaty, which deals with the residual U.S. force after withdrawal, the training and maintenance of Afghan Security Forces was in danger of collapsing based on the funding guarantee given by the U.S.  Earlier this week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai had demanded that the U.S commit in writing to at least $2Billion out of the estimated $4.2 Billion needed to fund Afghanistan.

While Afghan forces are expected to level at 228,500 by 2017, they are expected to grow to 352,000 soldiers and police officers this year, but the future size is under discussion.  A force of this size has to be funded, trained, equipped and paid.  The price tag for the force is approximately $4.1 Billion, of which the United States is expected to pay $2.3 Billion.  The remainder is to be split among NATO allies and the Afghan government. 

U.S. officials told reporters that the objective was to sign the agreement on Afghan soil. It has five  components: transition, training, partnership, reconciliation and rebuilding.  The emphasized the point that the U.S. learned the lesson of 1989 and will not abandon Afghanistan. 

The agreement was signed in the atrium of the King's Residence, which is part of the Presidential Palace. 

President Obam said that the U.S. and Afghanistan will be long term partners in combating terrorism and in training Afghan security partners.  He said that Afghanistan has a friend and partner in the U.S. and that together we'll achieve the goal of destroying Al Qaeda. 

The signing of this agreement clears the way for the exit of NATO from Afghanistan.  Australia will remove its contingent of 500 troops by 2013, Britain is withdrawing 500 troop, while the U.S. is expected to draw down 30,000 troops by the end of the year.

The details of the agreement have not yet been announced, including the residual NATO forces.  Both Canada and Australia have received a request from the U.S. to keep a small contingent of forces in Afghanistan to assist with training and pushing back the Taliban.

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