Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

Chris Good

AP barack obama afghanistan jt 140525 16x9 608 Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan
AP barack obama afghanistan jt 140525 16x9 608 Obama Makes Surprise Visit to Afghanistan

President Obama is in Afghanistan for Memorial Day weekend, having made a surprise trip there overnight.

Under cover of night and without making his plans public, the president departed in Air Force One about 10:30 p.m. Saturday, flying along with National Security advisor Susan Rice, senior White House advisor John Podesta, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, National Security Council spokesman Ben Rhodes and country music singer Brad Paisley.

Obama is now at Bagram Airfield. He'll receive a briefing behind closed doors and will meet with wounded soldiers at the hospital there.

Paisley will perform for troops stationed at the military base, holding a Memorial Day weekend concert while the president receives his briefing before returning to Washington, D.C., aboard Air Force One.

Obama will address troops after Paisley performs.

This is the president's fourth trip to Afghanistan as president. He first went in May 2012, visiting the Presidential Palace and delivering a televised address.

Obama has no plans to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai or either of the two men vying to replace him in a runoff presidential election: Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. The visit comes amid strained relations after Karzai refused to sign a negotiated agreement to allow some troops to remain in Afghanistan after this year. It also comes as Obama is weighing how many troops to leave in the country after the U.S. completes its drawdown of forces after 2014.

Although Karzai would not sign the agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay, it is expected that his successor as president will sign it, leaving open the possibility for the U.S. to leave some troops in Afghanistan to assist Afghan forces.

Obama could reveal his answer to that question soon. Aboard the Air Force One flight to Bagram, Rhodes told reporters that Americans can expect "additional clarity" about Obama's thinking on Afghanistan in the coming days, noting the president's scheduled commencement address at West Point on Wednesday and an upcoming NATO defense ministerial meeting on June 4.

The president has spoken with Karzai several times recently, including after a deadly landslide in Afghanistan, Rhodes said.

His decision not to meet with Karzai was motivated by a desire to focus on U.S. troops and stay out of Afghanistan's internal politics, Rhodes said.

"We've been looking for some period of time now, I'd say a few months, to come to Afghanistan precisely because we wanted to be able to thank the troops. … After the first round of the election went off well, we felt that there would be a good window to come on a troop-focused visit," Rhodes said, calling the trip "an opportunity for the president to thank American troops and civilians for their service."

Afghanistan will hold its runoff election June 14 to decide its new president.

ABC's Robin Sproul contributed to this report.