msnbc | March 28, 2010
>> we are learning, president obama arrived for his first trip as president to afghanistan . as you noted, he will only be on the ground for the unannounced trip for a matter of hours. is that correct?
>> reporter: on friday the president left after the bruising battle for health care before and after he signed the bill. we were told he was going to camp david . at some point he got on air force one, presumably at andrews air force base outside washington and traveling with him was a press pool, reporters chosen to go along with him. they are sworn to secrecy. moments before we came on the air, probably 20 minutes ago, we got a heads-up that the president was landing at bagram air force base in afghanistan for a secret and surprise visit to meet with afghan leaders including ka mid karzai with whom he's meeting at this moment. visit with u.s. troops , talk to u.s. commanders on the ground, talk to nato commanders on the ground and remind everyone the president did announce the increase in december of 30,000 u.s. forces to join the nato coalition. there are 68,000 american forces there. a controversial decision after much deliberation at the white house . there has been an offensive since then in taliban strongholds. marjah, helmand province , southern afghanistan where nato has prevailed in taking over that city but the larger military objective and political objective, kandahar city , the birthplace of the taliban , now still a taliban stronghold where government officials from kabul are nominally in charge. from all accounts can't walk the streets. the taliban is in charge. u.s. officials, military and here at the white house , have made no secret of the fact that kandahar is the next military objective. all this against the backdrop of increasing u.s. casualties as the pace of fighting has picked up in the early part of the year.
>> the last point you make is what's significant. as the new numbers came out, noting 77 americans have already died this year, a number double to have died through that period of time in 2009 . the number of wounded americans nearly tripled compared to the same period of time in 2009 . the american military officials at the pentagon made it clear that the number of casualties will continue to rise as a result of this expected -- i guess we should say the suspected military effort that will take place as you note in kandahar , expected to happen within the next matter of weeks if not months. we are joined by our colleague who spent a great deal of time in afghanistan . now safely back in the u.s. fortunately. richard is with us. if you can give us a sense of why the timing of this is significant and what the message is the president is likely to say to those he visits with.
>> reporter: the message is by his presence. what the president will say is what they always say. we support you. we want to make sure you have the equipment you need. by going it's sending a message to the troops, the military leadership and to the united states that the war is still going on. there is so much attention on the health care debate and other issues, but there are -- well, normally we say two active wars going on now in iraq and afghanistan . iraq quieted down significantly and particularly after the election. so now afghanistan is the main battlefront that the united states is engaged in and is getting more engaged in as u.s. troops continue to ramp up there. by all expectations it will be a bloody spring and summer. that's generally the fighting season. the idea of the president going there now shifting attention to that conflict and telling the troops and the american people this war has not been forgotten about.
>> i want your assessment having spent time in afghanistan , you're back from another trip to the region. if you can give us a sense now. eight years into the war in afghanistan , what is the progress report ? what are the biggest challenges americans face at this point? what is working and what do we have to worry about as we move forward?
>> the idea is to enter into a final end game , if you will, of the war. the white house and military leaders decided they needed to increase the troops. over the last couple of years, two to three years the taliban made a major return, a major resurgence in afghanistan . they were kicked out of power in 2001 . the taliban moved into pakistan, came back and re-established itself. now the idea is similar to the surge in iraq to have an intense flurry of military activity in order to try to bring some calm that you can work out a negotiated settlement. this is an important time. this is the military phase before u.s. hopes it can end the war in afghanistan with a diplomatic settlement.
>> we are learning more about the president. president obama made an unannounced trip to afghanistan where many american troops are now. the latest pool is telling us that the president and hamid karzai , afghanistan 's president, emerged from a palace along a red carpet to parade grounds in the middle of the pa complex. they were speaking but we have not heard from them publically. there was a ceremony. national anthems played. a lot of the pomp and circumstance film in events of this sort. it's interesting to note that this being the president's second stop in a war zone as commander in chief, this a year after a similarly secretive trip to iraq . but hamid karzai was only notified about the visit an hour before he arrived right now. can we ask him a question, richard , about hamid karzai and where the greatest pressure is he feels? how secure is the presidency accused of corruption and there are so many challenges to the system of government in afghanistan .
>> reporter: the fact that he's meeting with karzai and walking the red carpet with him is hugely significant. president obama and the administration have given the cold shoulder to karzai . unlike the bush administration and president bush who had a direct line of communication with president karzai very frequently, it took several months for the obama administration to reach out to karzai at all. you know there were allegations of corruption during karzai 's election. ballot box stuffing. there was a lot of pressure from the united states and the white house specifically on karzai and his administration . now for him to publically walk the carpet with him, that's a huge show of confidence. they are trying to open a new page.
>> hold on for a second, richard . i want jim miklaszewski on with us. he's joining us by phone. jim, you were in afghanistan not long ago for about a month's te time. tell us what you witnessed there and what's occurring during this visit to the american troops in afghanistan .
>> reporter: as significant as the trip is for hamid karzai it's equally significant for president obama . there were a lot of questions about the pr military presence there in afghanistan , particularly after he approved -- he did approve 30,000 additional forces mid to late summer. it wasn't as many as general stan mcchrystal asked for, but was particularly disconcerting to many afghan z was this arbitrary date in july of 2011 to begin withdrawal of american forces from afghanistan . we're talking about only beginning the withdrawal. there will probably only be a handful withdrawn at that time. there was question among the afghan people of the united states to president obama 's commitment to the war there in afghanistan . so this is particularly significant in that regard. also, one of the chief concerns that many in the u.s. military and the u.s. government had is that president karzai really never took ownership of the afghan portion of that war. he was seldom seen with the forces. seldom would go into the field. there was a real concern that hamid karzai himself had to stand up and act as a commander-in-chief, not a president in seclusion many thought there in kabul . so for many reasons this is an important part for president obama to make.
>> as we speak to you, jim, we know there is a significant spring and summer ahead for americans as they try to remove taliban forces from areas like kandahar , a hot bed of the insurgent type of activity. for viewers just joining us now on msnbc, president barack obama made an unannounced trip to kabul , afghanistan . right now at bagram airfield where he's been visiting with hamid karzai with an afghan color guard involved in the events taking place. now we are going to break