Obama surprises US troops in Afghanistan

President Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Sunday as his administration plans a major withdrawal from the war-torn nation and faces criticism of the medical treatment of American veterans.

After a secret overnight trip from Washington, D.C., Obama is scheduled to get an on-site briefing from military commanders at Bagram Air Field, visit with wounded soldiers at the base hospital, and address a rally of some of the 32,000 American service members currently serving in Afghanistan.

Country music star Brad Paisley traveled with the president, and performed for troops at Bagram. As the presidential party landed, Paisley tweeted: "About to play a surprise concert for the troops in Afghanistan. God bless our military. Here we go."

The Memorial Day weekend visit comes as Obama plans to wind down the Afghanistan war by year's end.

It also follows intense criticism over the treatment of veterans at VA hospitals, including reports that officials are trying to cover up evidence of long wait times and that some veterans have died while awaiting treatment.

In his weekend radio address, Obama said the nation must work harder to ensure that military veterans get the benefits they've earned.

"They've done their duty," Obama said, "and they ask nothing more than that this country does ours."

The president is not scheduled to meet with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, with whom the president has had a difficult relationship.

Air Force One landed at Bagram Air Field on Sunday night, local time, after a secret overnight trip that began Saturday night in Washington, D.C.

This is Obama's fourth visit to Afghanistan, his first since the re-election year on 2012.

While the U.S. and allies are pulling troops out of Afghanistan this year, the Obama administration is seeking to keep a small residual force in the country to train local security forces and conduct counter-terrorism missions.

That plan depends on Karzai's soon-to-be-elected successor signing a bilateral security agreement that Karzai has refused to endorse.

Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said Obama had been looking for an opportunity to get back to Afghanistan, and this trip provided "an opportunity for the president to thank American troops and civilians for their service."

Rhodes said the administration is "making some decisions about the future of our commitment to Afghanistan," and the briefings with give Obama a chance to assess the security and political situation as Afghanistan undergoes new elections.

"It is important for him to come before he articulates a decision" about a residual force, Rhodes said.


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