Obama tells troops Friday, “You’re going on offense…. Because of you, once more, we will prevail.”
Earlier: President arrives in Afghanistan on unannounced trip.
Pool report #1 – BREAKING NEWS
***President Obama is in Afghanistan***
**He is scheduled to speak with Afghan President Hamid Karzai via secure videoconference from Bagram Air Base – bad weather cancelled their scheduled sit-down in Kabul and POTUS visit to U.S. Embassy there – and he will address a U.S. troops from the base**
*Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, briefing reporters on AF1: “We started planning this over a month ago,” Rhodes said, “And the reason was to go during the holiday season. The president wanted to find a time in between Thanksgiving and Christmas when he could go out to spend some times with the troops, in particular, and our civilians in Afghanistan. Basically to wish them a happy holidays. It’s a particularly tough time of year.”*
Bagram Air Base
December 3, 2010
President Obama made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Friday, arriving at Bagram Air Base under the cover of night after a 13-hour nonstop flight from Andrews Air Force Base.
Air Force One was wheels down at the U.S. military base at 8:35pm local time (10:35am Eastern).
POTUS is expected to immediate motorcade to the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division, where POTUS is scheduled to speak via secure videoconference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for roughly 30-40 minutes.
***NOTE: POTUS was originally scheduled to helicopter from Bagram Air Base to Kabul, where he was to have a working dinner with Karzai and greet staff at the U.S. Embassy there. The original schedule had him on the ground in Afghanistan for roughly six hours. But the Kabul portion of the trip has been cancelled. White House military office made a bad weather call based on a ceiling of less than 1,000 feet, 45mph-and-above winds, and less than two miles visibility. More on the changes later.***
POTUS’s videoconference meeting with Karzai will also include: Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Douglas Lute, senior advisor and coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
There will be a pool spray at the top of the videoconference meeting.
Lute and Donilon will give a readout of the meeting to pool.
After the meeting with Karzai, POTUS will go to the hospital on the base, where he will visit with 8 patients: 5 soldiers and 3 civilian contractors. He will award 4 Purple Hearts.
POTUS will then address a couple thousand troops in a hangar at Bagram Air Base – most of them from the 101st Division. Petraeus will introduce POTUS. The speech will most likely be carried live on TV back home.
AF1 will be wheels up after the speech and POTUS works a ropeline for 30-40 minutes.
POTUS will be on the ground in Afghanistan for roughly 3 hours (half the amount of time originally scheduled before bad weather call.)
This is POTUS’s second trip to Afghanistan as POTUS – the last one was in March. He is expected to be back in Washington Saturday morning.
An hour and a half before AF1 was wheels down at Bagram Air Base, Ben Rhodes and Robert Gibbs briefed the pool in the AF1 conference room. (Lute was supposed to brief as well but was with Donilon briefing POTUS):
Re POTUS’s embassy visit: Rhodes stressed the sacrifices of civilians serving in Afghanistan, noting that over 1,000 government civilians in the country – a number that has tripled since POTUS ordered the surge a year ago.
POTUS’s speech to troops: Expect components of all the different services, but mostly 101st Division, which is on its 4th deployment.
Rhodes said the visit also comes at a time in whcih there have been a number of milestones in Afghanistan. He said the NATO summit in Lisbon 2 weeks ago achieved 3 principle goals:
1. All of ISAF’s requirements were met for training
2. Agreement on framework for transition – beginning in 2011 and ending in 2014. Rhodes reiterated POTUS’s July 2011 deadline for beginning a “conditions-base” withdrawal of U.S troops.
3. The NATO/Afghanistan longterm partnership agreement for transition
Rhodes noted POTUS’s trip comes amid the review of his Afghan strategy – a “comprehensive assessment”:
“This is a process that is diagnostic in nature, this is not a policy review similar to the one that was taken last year. We have a strategy in place. This is a process that will assess that strategy and review the need for any adjustments. But these adjustments again won’t be of the nature of a policy overhaul,” Rhodes said.
National security team is in the process of the review, which began roughly in October.
The review will be complete by mid-December, before POTUS leaves for holidays. It will involve an announcement by the president in the week of December 13th to 18th.
“I wouldn’t anticipate a major speech,” Rhodes said. Instead, it will be a “lower key rollout and a statement with some briefings by the president’s national security team.”
He said there has been progress and some success in targeting Taliban.
“But it’s an ongoing challenge,” he said.
How important is trip to the review process?
“I don’t think that this is really about that. This is about thanking the troops and civilians,” Rhodes said. He said he wouldn’t characterize this trip as associated with this review.
Review process: Lute and National Security staff, particilarly Donilon, are leading the effort. Lute received inputs from across the government… That’s been going on for a few weeks now…
The review process started in mid-October.
Wikileaks/timing – is that awkward for Karzai mtg?
Rhodes said the administration has dealt with these types of things before. “So we’ve weathered those kinds of revelations before… We’re all aware of the challenges in Afghanistan.”
“We’ve had ups and downs in terms of the kind of public revelations,” he said. “What we’re focused on is making sure that the two governments are aligned…”
The challenges on either the security side or the governing side are not new and they are certaibly not unknown.
WH informed the embassy in Kabul a few days ago of the trip.
Unsure when Karzai would have been informed, but it was after Lisbon.
Also, while at Bagram Air Base, POTUS will talk privately Petraeus and Eikenberry.
Some other details and background about the trip – more to come later:
AF1 was wheels up from Andrews Thursday night at 9:59.
WH staff on the trip in addition to Gibbs, Rhodes, Lute, Donilon: Marvin Nicholson, Katie Lillie, Pete Souza, Alyssa Mastromonaco.
The press pool: POTUS is traveling with a 13-person press pool, including three wire reporters – Ben Feller of the AP, Caren Bohan of Reuters, Juleanna Goldman of Bloomberg; an ABC TV crew of Jake Tapper, Karen Travers, Wayne Boyd and Charlie Breiterman; radio correspondent Ari Shapiro of NPR; three wire photographers – Pablo Monsavais of the AP, Jim Watson of the AFP, Jim Young of Reuters; NYT photographer Doug Mills; and your print pooler, who was informed of the trip less than 36 hours before AF1 was wheels up.
The *original* outline of the rest of POTUS’s schedule before the bad weather call:
After meeting with Karzai, POTUS was to head to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to greet staff there. This was to be closed press.
During the AF1 briefing:
Gibbs finished detailing POTUS’s schedule. “I would stress that the focus of our trip is really to see the troops and to see those that work at the embassy. This is…” Gibbs was saying when Alyssa Mastromonaco entered the conference room and whispered to Rhodes.
Rhodes: “So, uh,it looks like we’re going to have a bad weather call.”
Mastromonaco: “We’re below weather minimums for the lift.”
Gibbs joked about pool disregrding everything he’d just said.
Pool report #2
Pls use this updated schedule for POTUS events – obviously subject to change:
It’s 9:09pm local time.
POTUS is currently doing the phone call with Karzai, then he will meet with Eikenberry and Petraeus.
Then he will do the hospital visit.
Then he will do the speech to troops – about 30-40 minutes from now.
Then TBD, possibly a smaller greet with troops.
POTUS’s attire: brown leather bomber jacket, dark slacks.
More coming, and more apologies for earlier delay. As a side, pool leaened that news of POTUS’s trip had already broke as we were landing at Bagram. Journalistic chaos ensued in the press cabin.