Vice President Mike Pence told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on a secret visit Thursday to Afghanistan that the U.S. is “here to see this through” as they discussed a newly announced U.S. strategy to break the stalemate in America’s longest war and consulted on upcoming parliamentary elections.
Pence’s surprise visit was the first to the war-torn country by either the president or the vice president, and it came as the Trump administration charts a pathway to ending the 16-year war in Afghanistan.
“We’re here to see this through,” Pence told Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah at the presidential palace in Kabul, arriving after a helicopter ride through smoky, dark skies surrounding Afghanistan’s capital.
Later, at a rally-style event at Bagram Air Base, Pence told hundreds of U.S. troops that he believed “victory is closer than ever before.”
“It’s because of all of you that we’re safe. It’s because of you that we’re free. It’s because of you that freedom has a future in Afghanistan and America and all across the wider world,” Pence said.
Pence also received briefings from military leaders, including Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
The White House restricted the use of cellphones and internet communications for a small group of journalists traveling with the vice president, citing security concerns in Afghanistan. Pence was on the ground for about 6 1/2 hours before they were allowed to report on his whereabouts and activities.
The White House has described the new Afghanistan plan as a “regional” strategy that aims to cultivate cooperation among other South Asian nations, including the overturning of Pakistan’s harboring of elements of the Taliban.
At least 15,000 U.S. forces are in Afghanistan after Trump sent about 3,800 troops to the country this fall to enhance U.S. efforts to advise Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism missions.
The expected deployment of hundreds more U.S. Army trainers to Afghanistan early next year could increase the total number of American forces there to nearly 16,000, U.S. officials have said.
The trip followed an abrupt announcement from the White House that Pence would postpone until mid-January a planned visit to the Middle East, including stops in Egypt and Israel. The vice president had been scheduled to depart for the Middle East on Tuesday night.