Obama flew to the Afghan capital, Kabul, as part of an official congressional delegation. Senator Obama is hoping to address security issues, seen as the weakest aspect of his presidential bid.
The campaign announced early this morning, Eastern Time that Obama was on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. military later said Obama was greeting U.S. troops at Jalalabad airfield in eastern Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Bill Nutter, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Kuwait, said, “He talked to soldiers and constituents and met with senior military leadership.”
During the two-hour visit, Nutter said, the officers gave him an overview of operations. Obama shook hands, answered questions, posed for photos and played a little basketball during the visit.
Obama and his party also met with troops and military brass at the huge Bagram Air Base, according to reporters on the ground. Bagram is a militarized airport and housing complex that is located next to the ancient city of Bagram, Afghanistan. The base is currently occupied and maintained by the 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army, with the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing of the United States Air Force and other U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps.
In a speech earlier this week Obama said the US military should focus on Afghanistan rather than Iraq.
There has been an upsurge in fighting in recent months between Taliban rebels and international and Afghan forces.
Asked what message he would convey to Afghan and Iraqi leaders, Senator Obama said: “I’m more interested in listening than doing a lot of talking.”
Speaking to reporters before leaving, he added: “I’m going over there as a US senator. We have one president at a time, so it’s the president’s job to deliver those messages.”
As Senator Obama arrives in Kabul (local time is 8 hours 30 minutes ahead of EST – when it’s 6am on the East Coast, it’s 2:30pm Kabul time) the temperature is expected to reach a hazy and hot 102 degrees. But it’s not just the temperature that’s hot — war and heated disputes rages on in Afghanistan.
The NATO-led international force in Afghanistan rejected on Friday reports from Afghan officials that it killed more than 50 civilians in air strikes the previous day in the West of the country.
At least four men were killed in the strikes, a spokesman for the regional police command had said. Witnesses said 17 people were also wounded.
But other reports, by Shindand District Chief Mullah Lal Mohammad and a tribal elder, Haji Zalmai, said that more than 50 civilians had been killed in the strikes in the villages of Farmakan and Bakhtabad in the western province of Herat.
“ISAF has thoroughly investigated and rejects claims that ISAF forces killed more than 50 civilians in the Shindand area,” the International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.
“Our extensive investigation reveals that the closest airstrikes carried out were 13 km to the South East of these villages. ISAF therefore rejects these claims as baseless.”
In a statement released the U.S. military said the raid was against “high priority Taliban targets” and that two “Taliban leaders” and a “significant number of insurgents” were also killed. It said there was no evidence of any civilian casualties.
However, the U.S. military confirmed that it had killed eight civilians in an air strike on Tuesday in the neighboring province of Farah.
The U.S. military says it is also investigating reports by Afghan officials that around 60 civilians were killed in two separate air strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces this month in eastern Afghanistan.
The issue of civilian casualties is a highly sensitive one for the Western-backed government and undermines Afghan support for the presence of foreign forces that are fighting the Taliban-led insurgents in Afghanistan.
There has been a sharp rise in violence in Afghanistan this year, the bloodiest since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the hard-line Taliban in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.