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Obama visits Afghanistan to thank troops, rally support back home

President Obama's visit to Afghanistan comes just as WikiLeaks cables are bringing fresh attention to grave problems on the war front.

By Staff writer / December 3, 2010

President Obama speaks to troops at a rally during a surprise visit at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, on Friday, Dec. 3.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP


New Delhi

President Obama addressed US troops Friday on a surprise visit to Afghanistan to thank servicemen and women serving over the holidays and rally support for the war back home.

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“On behalf of more than 300 million Americans, we are here to say thank you for everything that you do,” Mr. Obama told a large gathering of uniformed troops at Bagram Airbase outside Kabul.

He made note that nearly one year ago he ordered a surge of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan: “We said we were going to break the Taliban’s momentum and that’s what you’re doing. You’re going on the offensive; [we are] tired of playing defense.”

Obama emphasized that despite political divisions at home, the nation was united in support of the troops.

American view of the war

On the war itself, however, the American mood has darkened. Half of Americans say the US should no longer be involved in Afghanistan, 60 percent say the war is a lost cause, and 68 percent are worried about the opportunity costs, according to recent polls from Quinnipiac, Bloomberg, and Gallup, respectively.

War weariness is likely to grow with the release of classified diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks and the softening of US deadlines for withdrawal. While the secret cables mostly confirm daily headlines from the war front, many of those headlines had gone unnoticed as Americans struggled with economic woes and mid-term elections that were fought on pocketbook issues.

Now the secret documents have recaptured broader public attention on the conflict and given searing specifics to some of the war’s banal challenges.

RELATED: WikiLeaks 101: Five questions about who did what and when

In particular, headlines over the past year have pointed to US frustration with corruption inside the regime of President Hamid Karzai. But the cables – many of which remain unreleased except to a few publications – have told the story more directly:

  • United Arab Emirates customs caught Ahmed Zia Massoud, a former vice president, trying to bring in $52 million in cash. (Mr. Massoud has denied the account.)
  • Of the $200 million collected in trucking fees by the Transportation Ministry, only $30 million gets handed over to the government, the New York Times reported, citing a cable.
  • The US embassy judged only one of Afghanistan’s new cabinet ministers to be free from allegations of bribery, according to another cable cited by the Times.
  • One of the only officials to be sacked for corruption – the former mayor of Kabul – may have been targeted by the Afghan government because he was actually fighting corruption, the US embassy surmised in another such cable.

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