WASHINGTON--President Obama is in Afghanistan, in a three-hour holiday visit with the troops that has been planned for a month but unannounced until his arrival at Bagram AFB, were he will remain.
The "primary focus of the trip is to meet with and thank US troops," the White House said; Obama will also video teleconference with Afghan President Karzai from Bagram."
For details, click below....
below, White House background on Obama Afghanistan visit...
Below is info on SCHEDULED EVENTS, BAD WEATHER CALL, DETAILS UP UNTIL THIS POINT, VIDEO FEEDS and a readout of an OFF-CAMERA BRIEFING by Gibbs and Rhodes.
-The president's primary focus of the trip is to meet with and thank US troops.
-He will also do a secure videoteleconference with Afghan President Karzai from Bagram.
-Karzai remains in Kabul due to bad weather (more on that below).
The trip was not reportable until this point, based on WH ground rules.
***IMP NOTE-we will feed first video asap but you should not expect that for about 30+ minutes at the earliest****
Bad weather in Kabul changed the schedule-visit to Karzai's palace is not happening.
**OBAMA WILL REMAIN AT BAGRAM FOR THE ENTIRE TIME HERE-THAT IS APPROX THREE HOURS ON THE GROUND**
REST OF SCHEDULE-no set times:
-SVTC w/Karzai (photo spray at top-Petraeus, Lute, Eikenberry, Donilon will be there)-will take place at HQ of 101st Airborne Division
-closed mtg at hospital at Bagram. Obama will meet with 8 patients-5 soldiers, 3 civilian contractors. He will award 4 Purple Hearts.
-speech to troops-OPEN PRESS. We plan to transmit this LIVE via DVIDS. We will get as much heads up on exact timing as possible.
**We expect a briefing from Lute and Donilon post-mtg with Karzai**
Obama was supposed to go to Kabul but bad weather will keep him at Bagram. Ceiling (cloud cover) was less than 1000ft. Winds were 45mph and above with less than two miles visibility. Conditions made helo travel "not an option," Gibbs said.
What Obama would have done: The president was due to helo from Bagram to the US Embassy in Kabul, motorcade to the presidential palace to meet Karzai. He was then going to motorcade back to embassy, hold closed event there to thank civilian govt staffers and helo to Bagram for rest of schedule.
DETAILS UP UNTIL NOW-all times ET
-9:59p: wheels up from Andrews. Pool was already on plane, we did not see the president board. (See bottom of note for timing of press movements if interested.)
-9:28a: off camera briefing by Gibbs and Rhodes. Details below.
-XXXXa: wheels down at Bagram Air Base
-We will be using DVIDS to feed video. ABC DC desk will coordinate w/all nets. This was set up by the WH and US military, just like on the March trip here.
-The DVIDS is set up at Bagram. I'm told there will be a live pic sent out as soon as we get there so the line can be tested, ready to go.
Off-camera, WH Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes (WH transcript to come)
-Rhodes said the trip planning began a month ago and the principle reason for going was to spend time with US troops during the holiday season, to thank them and to wish them happy holidays.
-Rhoades said this is a "particularly tough time of the year" for men and women in the military and their families. He said the president wanted to "underscore" the sacrifice of servicemembers and their families.
-The bulk of the troops the president will address come from the 101st Airborne Division, but there will be representation from components of all services.
-The 101st AD is on its 4th combat deployment, per Rhodes, and the 4th holiday season away from home. (two tours in Iraq, 15-18mos in Afghanistan from 08-09, and this tour)
-Gen Petraeus will intro the president at the troops event
-Rhodes and Gibbs emphasized that the focus of the trip is the troops. Obama just met with Karzai in Lisbon less than 2 weeks ago and they talk regularly through SVTC.
-Rhoades said there is "no major new piece" of news that the president is bringing to the mtg w/Karzai. The president's trip to Afghanistan did not come up in their mtg in Lisbon, he said. He is checking on the exact timing of when Karzai was informed of the visit.
Regarding the mission in Afghanistan, Rhodes said there were 3 milestones/goals met at the NATO summit in Lisbon 2 weeks ago.
1. ISAF requirement for trainers was met by new international commitments-"filled the trainers gap," he said.
2. Agreement on framework for transition starting in early 2011 (NATO starts earlier in the year than US combat mission) to begin transition to Afghan security forces. This will be conditions based and completed by 2014.
3. NATO/Afghanistan Partnership Declaration-even as transition security to Afghan forces, there is a longterm commitment to security and a bilateral partnership.
DECEMBER AFGHAN REVIEW
Rhodes said the Afghanistan review by the National Security Staff (led by Lute and Donilon) will be completed the week before everyone leaves for the holidays (he didn't say exact day, but week of Sunday Dec 12 is the ballpark timing)
Rhodes emphasized that this is not a "policy review" in the sense of last year's Afghanistan review, but a process where various components (pentagon, state dept, intel community) input updates on conditions and how strategy is working. The review began in mid-Oct.
He said don't anticipate a major speech from the president, but more like an update to the American people assessing the current strategy and progress.
Rhodes said this trip was not meant as an opportunity for the president to gain info on progress for that review-"it's not about that...more about thanking the troops," he said.
WIKILEAKS-causing more headaches for trip?
Rhodes said there have been public discussions of challenges in Afghanistan before, this is not new. The Obama Administration has "weathered those kinds of revelations before as it relates to President Karzai and the Afghan government,," he said. "We're all aware there are serious challenges in Afghanistan."
The goals: 1) "breaking the Taliban's momentum"; 2) Build up Afghan security capability; 3) transition to Afghan forces.
Gibbs said the challenges on security and government side in Afghanistan is not new-he said the challenges are known, the goals are known.
TICK TOCK OF PRESS MOVEMENTS: (all times ET)
-7:45p: press arrive at Andrews, escorted to parking lot and bus (bags/communication devices confiscated)
-8:30p bus rolls
-8:40p Arrive at hangar where two AF1 jets are parked inside. Get bags, board plane, await wheels up.