BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — President Barack Obama slipped unannounced into dangerous Afghanistan on Friday, one year after widening an ever deadlier war and just days before a pivotal review about the 9-year-plus conflict. Plans for a face-to-face meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai were scrapped at the last minute.
Under intense security, Obama landed in darkness after a clandestine departure from the White House on Thursday, where plans of his trip into the war zone were tightly guarded. Obama stepped off Air Force One clad in a leather jacket.
He was to personally thank U.S. troops for their service during the holidays.
The White House said rough weather forced the president to abruptly drop plans to meet Karzai in Kabul. The White House determined the wind, dust and cloud cover made it unsafe for the president to fly by helicopter from the huge military complex here to the presidential palace.
In a rapidly changing sequence of events, the White House then said they would speak by secure videoconference — but later said that, too, was dropped. Instead, the two leaders were expected to speak by phone.
In total, Obama was to spend three hours on the ground in Afghanistan, about half the time he had scheduled.
His visit to thank troops and civilian workers came ahead of an upcoming full review of his war plan later this month. He planned to visit embassy workers and wounded soldiers and speak to troops at a hangar here. On the flight, the White House said Obama’s war review would include no major policy changes.
The secret trip has been in the works for more than a month. National Security aide Ben Rhodes said Obama wanted to go to Afghanistan between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
“It’s always tough to serve in harm’s way but when you’re away from loved ones in the holiday season it’s particularly hard, and the president wanted the ability to come out and have some time with them,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes said the scrapping of the personal visit with Karzai would not have consequences because the two just met at a NATO summit in Lisbon two weeks ago.
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