(Reuters) - President Barack Obama made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Sunday, his first since he took office, for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and to express his thanks to U.S. troops.
The following are some facts about Obama’s strategy on Afghanistan.
* Obama campaigned in 2008 on a pledge to return the fight against Islamic extremism to where it began, in Afghanistan, while promising to pull U.S. forces out of Iraq. He has begun to deliver on that promise, ordering the deployment of 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan as part of an effort to take the battle to the Taliban while training Afghan soldiers to take over their own security.
Obama reached his new strategy after a lengthy review period last autumn. In a pledge that may be hard to meet, he said he would like to begin pulling some U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by July of 2011.
* While Obama’s healthcare overhaul is generating great skepticism among Americans, people are largely backing him on Afghanistan. A CNN/Opinion Research poll last week said 55 percent of Americans back Obama’s strategy for Afghanistan. But Americans are also weary of the war that was begun after the September 11, 2001, attacks. The poll found that in general, 49 percent oppose the war while 48 percent favor it. Afghanistan is the one issue where his Republican opponents have backed Obama, supporting his moves to increase U.S. troop strength, having believed that Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, took his eye off Afghanistan while waging war in Iraq.
* Obama has also been pressing Karzai to make greater strides toward improving the rule of law and fighting corruption within the Afghan government. Karzai won re-election last year after a vote that observers said was marred by widespread fraud. When Karzai was declared the winner in November, Obama told him it was time to “write a new chapter based on improved governance, a much more serious effort to eradicate corruption, joint efforts to accelerate the training of Afghan security forces so that the Afghan people can provide for their own security.”
Compared to Bush, Obama has been far cooler to Karzai but his trip there on Sunday and invitation for Karzai to visit Washington on May 12 signaled the possibility of a closer relationship.
* As part of the new strategy, U.S. and NATO troops are waging their largest offensive in Afghanistan since the start of the war in 2001, aimed at driving the Taliban from Marjah, their last big stronghold in the violent southern Helmand Province, to make way for Afghan authorities to take it over. The offensive is an important piece of Obama’s plan to use his troops surge to seize insurgent-held areas and shift control to local authorities before the United States begins to bring its troops out of Afghanistan.
* The CIA has also stepped up its use of Predator drone aircraft to fire missiles at Taliban targets, particularly in the wake of the killing of eight CIA agents by a suicide bomber who infiltrated a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan in late December. It was the deadliest attack on the CIA in 20 years.
Editing by Patricia Wilson and Doina Chiacu
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