Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday, the first stop on a campaign-season tour of war zones, a spokesman said.
Less than four months before the general election, Obama’s first visit to Afghanistan, with a subsequent stop in Iraq, was rich with political implications, although the Illinois senator flew as part of an official congressional delegation.
Rival John McCain has criticised Obama for his lack of time in the region, and the Republican National Committee had a running ticker tallying the more than 900 days since his last visit to Iraq.
Spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama arrived in Kabul early on Saturday.
“I look forward to seeing what the situation on the ground is,” Obama told a pair of reporters who accompanied him to his departure from Andrews Air Force Base on Thursday.
“I want to, obviously, talk to the commanders and get a sense both in Afghanistan and in Baghdad of, you know, what the most, their biggest concerns are, and I want to thank our troops for the heroic work that they’ve been doing,” he said before his flight overseas.
Obama advocates ending the US combat role in Iraq by withdrawing troops at the rate of one to two combat brigades a month. But he supports increasing the military commitment to Afghanistan, where the Taliban has been resurgent and Osama bin laden is believed to be hiding.
On his trip, Obama intends to meet Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president. He recently chided Karzai and his government, saying it had “not gotten out of the bunker” and helped to organise the country or its political and security institutions.
Also on his itinerary is a meeting with Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi leader. On the campaign trail, Obama has said one benefit of withdrawing U.S. troops is that it would pressure al-Maliki to shore up his government as well.