President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai have signed an agreement aimed at cementing a lasting U.S. commitment to Afghanistan after the long and unpopular war comes to an end.
Obama says the costs of the Afghan war have been great. He says the deal with Afghanistan allows the U.S. to wind down the war, but still stand by Afghanistan and its people.
The president says the deal will also pave the way for "a future of peace."
Karzai says postwar agreement will seal an "equal partnership" between Afghanistan and the United States.
Obama and Karzai signed the agreement at the presidential palace in Kabul shortly after the U.S. president arrived in Afghanistan on Tuesday, slipping into the country under the cover of darkness.
President Barack Obama slipped into Afghanistan Tuesday night on an unannounced visit on the anniversary of the killing of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. Obama is signing an agreement cementing a U.S. commitment to the nation after the long and unpopular war comes to an end.
The partnership spells out the US relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, covering security, economics and governance. The deal is limited in scope and essentially gives both sides political cover: Afghanistan gets its sovereignty and a promise it won't be abandoned, while the U.S. gets to end its combat mission but keep a foothold in the country.
The deal does not commit the United States to any specific troop presence or spending. But it does allow the U.S. to potentially keep troops in Afghanistan after the war ends for two specific purposes: continued training of Afghan forces and targeted operations against al-Qaida, which is present in neighboring Pakistan but has only a nominal presence inside Afghanistan.
Obama was greeted at Bagram Airfield by Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Obama then flew by helicopter to the presidential palace in Kabul, where he was to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and sign the strategic partnership.
Officials have previously said as many as 20,000 U.S. troops may remain after the combat mission ends, but that still must still be negotiated.
The United States does promise to seek money from Congress every year to support Afghanistan.
Obama was to be on the ground for about seven hours in Afghanistan, where the United States has been engaged in war for more than a decade following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The trip carries major symbolic significance for a president seeking a second term and allows him to showcase what the White House considers the fruit of Obama's refocused war effort: the demise of bin Laden.
Air Force One touched down late at night local time at Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base here.
Media traveling with Obama on the 13-plus-hour flight had to agree to keep it secret until Obama had safely finished a helicopter flight to the nation's capital, Kabul, where Taliban insurgents still launch lethal attacks.
Obama is joining Afghan President Hamid Karzai to sign the agreement that will broadly govern the U.S. role in Afghanistan after the American combat mission stops at the end of 2014 — 13 years after it began.
Obama will also give a speech designed to reach Americans in the U.S. dinnertime hour of 7:30 p.m. EDT. It will be 4 a.m. here when Obama speaks.
His war address will come exactly one year after special forces, on his order, began the raid that led to the killing of bin Laden in Pakistan.
Since then, ties between the United States and Afghanistan have been tested anew by the burning of Muslim holy books at a U.S. base and the massacre of 17 civilians, including children, allegedly by an American soldier.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.