Vice President Pence made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday. It is the first visit to the country by the president or vice president under the Trump administration, and comes four months after Trump unveiled his strategy for the United States’ role in the country.
“I bring greetings from your commander in chief,” Pence told troops at the Bagram Airfield, north of Kabul. “Before I left the Oval Office yesterday, I asked the president if he had a message for the troops.
“He said, ‘Tell them I love them,’ ” Pence said.
Pence met with Afghani President Ashraf Ghani before the speech, arriving at a courtyard near the Presidential Palace in Kabul via helicopter.
Pence, whose trip was unannounced for security reasons, told Ghani and Afghani Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah that he was there as tangible evidence that the United States was “here to see this through.”
President Trump announced in August that his administration was going to “shift from a time-based approach to one of condition” in the nearly 16-year war. He said his “original instinct was to pull out,” but said he changed his mind because the security threats that the U.S. faced were “immense.” The U.S. and Afghans are battling the Taliban and militants linked to al-Qaida and ISIS.
The president ended up deploying about 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing the number of American troops in the country to more than 15,000, as NPR’s Greg Myre has reported earlier this month.
“We’ve been on a long road together, but President Trump made it clear earlier this year that we are with you,” Pence said, before his meeting with the Afghan leadership. “We are joined in resolve.”
Pence told reporters that Trump’s increased attention on the ground was already paying off, according to Reuters. Pence said he was hopeful that eventually the Taliban “will tire of losing” and will be willing to negotiate a peace deal.
Afghanistan is six months away from parliamentary elections, and the Trump administration has sought to work with the Afghani leadership in preparation. The elections, set for July 7, have been delayed almost three years because of security concerns.
“There are two ways of looking at the situation,” Chief Executive Abdullah told NPR’s Steve Inskeep in November. “One is to wish things away, which I don’t think that it happens in the realities of our world. [And] one is to make your best efforts to find a way out, which I think the current administration is doing, the U.S. administration, and we — us on the ground — the Afghans are making our best efforts to put an end to this war.”
American troops have recently begun targeting drug-producing facilities in the country with air strikes, in an effort to cut off Taliban funding, reports the Associated Press.
Trump has also mentioned the need to work with other South Asian countries, especially Pakistan, so insurgents can’t seek haven outside Afghanistan’s borders. In speaking to troops on Thursday, Pence said Trump had put the country “on notice.”
“Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with the United States,” Pence said. “Pakistan has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals.”
Pence declined to put a timeline on the war, both in talking to reporters and in speaking publicly.
“The armed forces of the United States will remain engaged in Afghanistan until we eliminate the terrorist threat to our homeland, to our people, once and for all,” he said.