Obama delivered his address at the end of an unannounced visit here to sign a long-term partnership agreement with the Afghan government and to mark, alongside American troops at Bagram air base outside this capital city, the first anniversary of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Less than two hours after Obama left the country, insurgents killed at least seven people in a suicide bombing outside a heavily guarded housing compound for foreigners, news services reported. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which led to a prolonged gun battle between insurgents and Afghan soldiers who rushed to the scene, the Associated Press reported.
Obama’s trip came amid criticism at home that the president is using the anniversary of bin Laden’s death to advance his reelection prospects — featuring his decision to launch the mission in campaign videos and other political settings, for example. As Republican critics have called his leadership abroad weak, Obama has held up the bin Laden operation as evidence that he is willing to make risky decisions to protect U.S. interests.
His arrival here was timed to make the “strategic partnership agreement” official before an important NATO summit this month — and, in the words of one senior administration official traveling with Obama, to take advantage of “a resonant day for both our countries on the anniversary of the death of bin Laden.”
Obama used his time with the troops to emphasize the sacrifices they and their families have made over more than a decade of conflict, saying that in doing so they made the bin Laden mission successful and put the long war on a path to its conclusion.
The hours-long visit was directed almost entirely toward an American audience, unfolding while most Afghans slept. It also served to promote detente after some of the tensest months in U.S.-Afghan relations.
Since February, American service members have inadvertently burned Korans at a U.S. military base, Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales allegedly murdered 17 civilians in Kandahar province, and at least 18 NATO troops have been killed by their Afghan counterparts. In addition to straining ties and infuriating Afghans, the incidents have contributed to rising war fatigue at home.
Opinion polls show most Americans no longer believe the war is worth fighting. But the strategic agreement and the troop withdrawal schedule allow Obama to say that he has ended the war in Iraq and is winding down the one in Afghanistan, a position even a majority of Republicans favor.
“The Iraq war is over. The number of our troops in harm’s way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon,” Obama said Tuesday. “We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan while delivering justice to al-Qaeda.”