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Obama Travels to Afghanistan

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama shakes hands with service members at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, July 18, 2008, during a Congressional delegation visit. (U.S. Army photo via the Associated Press)

By Dan Balz
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan Saturday, according to a campaign spokesman, the first stop on a weeklong foreign tour that will take him to seven countries, including Iraq.

Details of his itinerary in the war zone were kept closely guarded for security reasons, but the Illinois senator told reporters before leaving Washington on Thursday that he hoped to spend much of his time listening to military commanders and Afghan and Iraqi leaders, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to gauge conditions in both countries.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what the situation on the ground is," he told two reporters who were part of a press pool that accompanied him from his home in Chicago to Andrews Air Force Base before he departed. "I want to, obviously, talk to the commanders and get a sense, both in Afghanistan and in Baghdad of, you know, what the most, ah, their biggest concerns are. And I want to thank our troops for the heroic work that they've been doing."

Obama traveled under considerable secrecy as he left the United States. Spokesman Robert Gibbs confirmed his arrival in Afghanistan in an e-mail to reporters that was sent out just before 3:30 a.m. EDT. "At approximately 3:15 AM Eastern/2:15 AM Central, I received a phone call telling me that Senator Obama had landed at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan," he said in the message. "Since leaving Washington on Thursday, Senator Obama had stopped and visited troops in Kuwait."

Obama's itinerary for the long-planned trip also includes Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Great Britain. His visit to Afghanistan came as part of an official congressional delegation. He was joined by Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). Once he leaves the war zones, he will be traveling under the auspices of his presidential campaign.

Obama has been highly critical of Bush administration policy in Iraq and tangled in the days before leaving Washington with rival John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. In a major speech last Tuesday, he reiterated his call for an end to the war in Iraq and a timetable for withdrawing combat forces over a period of 16 months.

Obama also said in that speech that the United States should send additional forces to Afghanistan to help arrest a deteriorating military situation there.

McCain long has supported the troop surge policy in Iraq, which has helped to substantially reduce violence and U.S. casualties there and has been critical of Obama's call for a withdrawal timetable. McCain too supports additional forces for Afghanistan.

Since Obama left the country, the administration announced that it has reached agreement with the Iraqi leadership on a rough goal for winding down U.S. military involvement in Iraq.

Obama last visited Iraq in early 2006 but has never previously been to Afghanistan. Asked by the pool reporters what he planned to tell the Afghan and Iraqi leaders, he said, "Well, you know, I'm more interested in listening than doing a lot of talking. And I think it is very important to recognize that I'm going over there as a U.S. senator. We have one president at a time, so it's the president's job to deliver those messages."

Obama left Chicago shortly after 11 a.m. CDT on Thursday and flew in a private plane to Washington's Reagan National Airport. From there his motorcade took him to Andrews, where Hagel and Reed were awaiting his arrival. He left Washington at approximately 3:15 p.m. for the flight that took him to Kuwait.

Obama was accompanied by one adviser, Mark Lippert, who has recently completed a tour of duty in Iraq as a naval reservist.

By Washington Post Editor  |  July 19, 2008; 5:12 AM ET
Categories:  B_Blog , Barack Obama  
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