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Obama in surprise visit pushes Karzai to fight corruption

Obama and Karzai in Kabul on Sunday Reuters/Jim Young

US President Barack Obama, arriving in Kabul overnight in a surprise visit to Afghanistan, called on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to stand against corruption. In his first state visit to the country since he took office, Obama visited troops, and met with US military leaders to asses his new strategy.

"We are here to help Afghans forge a hard-won peace while realising the extraordinary potential of the Afghan people," said Obama in a speech to troops at Bagram Airfield, outside Kabul.

Obama met with Karzai, and urged him to “continue to make progress” on corruption, governance and the rule of law. He invited the Afghan leader to visit Washington on 12 May.

The Obama administration has been sceptical about Karzai’s promises to reform governance and curb corruption since his controversial re-election in August.

US General James Jones, a national security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One on the way to Kabul that the administration wants Karzai to “understand that in his second term, there are certain things that have not been paid attention to, almost since day one.”

“We had a good discussion of the issues between our two countries, about the region, and of continued struggle against extremism and terrorism," Karzai said at ceremony at the presidential palace late Sunday night.

Obama’s visit included briefings with the commander of foreign troops, US General Stanley McChrystal and with the US ambassador Karl Eikenberry.

His strategy has been to increase troops before a planned withdrawal in July 2011. Some 121,000 US-led and Nato troops are currently based in the country, anticipated to grow to 150,000 by August.

"Our strategy includes a military effort that takes the fight to the Taliban while creating the conditions for greater security and a transition to the Afghans,” Obama said in his speech at Bagram Airfield.

"But also a civilian effort that improves the daily lives of the Afghan people and combats corruption, and a partnership with Pakistan and its people, because we can't uproot extremists and advance security and opportunity unless we succeed on both sides of
the border.”

Obama spent less than six hours in Afghanistan, and was due back in the US Monday morning.