msnbc.com news services
updated 12/3/2010 6:42:06 PM ET 2010-12-03T23:42:06

Speaking to nearly 4,000 U.S. troops here after a secret overnight flight from Washington, President Barack Obama on Friday said they were making "important progress" against militants in Afghanistan.

"Today we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control," he said.

  1. Related content
    1. NYT: Cables describe scale of Afghan corruption
    2. Wiki fallout? Canada's envoy offers to resign
    3. In Afghan cauldron, realism trumps rulebook
    4. US special forces disciplined in aid worker death
    5. Soldier reaches deal in Afghan shooting case
    6. Remains of 6 killed by Afghan cop come home

"We said we were going to break the Taliban's momentum," he added. "That's what you're doing. You're going on the offense, tired of playing defense."

Obama had traveled to Afghanistan to thank the troops and to deal with frayed relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

But plans for a face-to-face meeting with Karzai were abruptly scrapped. The White House and Afghan officials blamed the last-minute cancellation on rough weather. Instead, the two leaders spoke by phone, Obama at the air base and Karzai in Kabul.

Obama's surprise visit to the war zone, his second as president, came 10 days before he is to address the nation about a new review of U.S. strategy to defeat the Taliban and strengthen the Afghan government so American troops can begin leaving next year.

Newsweek: Why Obama made the surprise trip

The trip also came at a particularly awkward moment in already strained U.S. relations with Afghanistan because of new and embarrassing leaked cables alleging widespread fraud and underscoring deep American concerns about Karzai.

There was no mention of that as the president spoke to more than 3,500 service members packed into a huge airplane hangar. After his remarks, he spent more than 10 minutes shaking hands, going around the hangar three times as they grabbed his hand and held cameras and cell phones high to take photos.

Image: Obama meets with troops at Bagram Air Force Base
Jim Young  /  Reuters
President Barack Obama greets troops at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan on Friday.

Obama stayed on this U.S. military base, the headquarters of the 101st Airborne Division, the entire time he was here, just under four hours. He huddled with U.S. Gen. David Petraeus, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan and U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. And he visited wounded soldiers at a base hospital, personally dispensing five Purple Hearts to wounded service members.

"Because of the progress we're making, we look forward to a new phase next year, the beginning of the transition to Afghan responsibility," Obama told the troops. He thanked them for their efforts, noting the difficulty in being away from home during the holidays, and they repeatedly cheered him in return.

Slideshow: Afghanistan at a crossroads (on this page)

He said the U.S. was continuing "to forge a partnership with the Afghan people for the long term." And he said, "we will never let this country serve as a safe haven for terrorists who would attack the United States of America again. That will never happen."

There are now about 150,000 coalition forces in Afghanistan, roughly 100,000 of them Americans. The U.S. and its NATO partners agreed last month in Lisbon, Portugal, to begin turning over control to local Afghan authorities in 2011, with a goal of completing that transition by the end of 2014.

  1. Only on NBCNews.com
    1. OWN via Getty Images
      From belief to betrayal: How America fell for Armstrong
    2. pool via Reuters file
      US to Syria neighbors: Be ready to act on WMDs
    3. China: One-child policy is here to stay
    4. NRA: Practice Range
      New 'Practice Range' shooter game says it’s from NRA
    5. 'Gifted' priest indicted in crystal meth case
    6. AFP - Getty Images
      China's state media admits to air pollution crisis
    7. AFP - Getty Images
      French to send 1,000 more troops to Mali

White House officials said gusty winds and swirling dust led them to cancel Obama's planned helicopter visit to Kabul, about 30 miles north of here. A backup plan for a secure videoconference was also scrapped.

Waheed Omar, a Karzai spokesman, said the Afghan leader was "not upset" that the palace visit was scuttled. He noted that the two leaders had met during the conference in Lisbon and discussed the situation in Afghanistan in detail.

Obama, who has tripled U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan, has come under increasing pressure to demonstrate progress in turning the tide against the Taliban insurgency in the battle that has now gone on for more than nine years. In his remarks to the troops, Obama cited "important progress."

    1. Castaway's parents thought they would never see him again

      The father of Pacific castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga said he was told his long-lost son vanished on a fishing trip but he didn’t have the heart to break the news to his ailing wife.

    2. Scotland legalizes same-sex marriage
    3. Weapons deal strengthened Assad: US intel chief
    4. Outcry over the fate of Sochi's stray dogs
    5. Olympic construction leaves Sochi residents in the cold

"We said we were going to break the Taliban's momentum. And that's what you're doing. You're going on the offense, tired of playing defense, targeting their leaders, pushing them out of their strongholds. Today, we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans have a chance to build a more hopeful future," he said.

He thanked the troops for their work and sacrifice "on behalf of more than 300 million Americans."

"You give me hope. You give me inspiration. Your resolve shows that Americans will never succumb to fear," he said to cheers and shouts.

Petraeus, the commander Obama is looking to to turn things around, introduced Obama to the troops and teased the president about the basketball injury to his lip last week. Presenting him with a 101st Airborne T-shirt, Petraeus told the president: "No one will mess with you if you wear this, Mr. President."

At the base hospital, Obama met with platoon members from the unit that lost six soldiers this week in brazen killings by an Afghan border policeman who turned fire on his U.S. trainers.

Mentioning that visit and his meeting with what Petraeus called "wounded warriors," Obama told the assembled troops: "I don't need to tell you this is a tough fight. ... It's a tough business. Progress comes slow. And there are going to be difficult days ahead. Progress comes at a high price."

Newly leaked U.S. cables show American diplomats portraying Afghanistan as rife with graft to the highest levels of government, with tens of millions of dollars flowing out of the country and a cash transfer network that facilitates bribes for corrupt Afghan officials, drug traffickers and insurgents.

A main concern in the cables appears to be Karzai himself, who emerges as a mercurial figure. In a July 7, 2009, dispatch, Eikenberry describes "two contrasting portraits" of the Afghan president.

"The first is of a paranoid and weak individual unfamiliar with the basics of nation building and overly self-conscious that his time in the spotlight of glowing reviews from the international community has passed," the cable says. "The other is that of an ever-shrewd politician who sees himself as a nationalist hero. ... In order to recalibrate our relationship with Karzai, we must deal with and challenge both of these personalities."

Obama aides later said the subject of the cables didn't come up during the Obama-Karzai phone call, which lasted 15 minutes. Ben Rhodes, a White House national security aide, told reporters Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had already spoken to Karzai about WikiLeaks disclosures.

After the long, unannounced flight from Washington, Obama landed in darkness under intense security.

He stepped off Air Force One clad in a brown leather jacket that he was also wearing when he spoke to troops. Plans of his trip into the war zone were tightly guarded.

Despite the upcoming review results, White House officials on the trip played down the significance of his upcoming speech. No big policy changes are expected, they said.

To deal with any doubts about reasons for the Karzai meeting being canceled, reporters traveling with Obama were escorted outside the air field hangar to get a glimpse of the conditions. The wind was blowing strongly, kicking up dust clouds as troops streamed in to hear Obama. An American flag whipped against its pole. At the presidential palace, U.S. armored vehicles were securing entrances. Carpets were ready to be unrolled.

The war in Afghanistan is the nation's longest after Vietnam, launched in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. This has been the deadliest year to date for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. More than 1,300 have died here since the war began, more than 450 in 2010.

The visit comes a year after Obama announced he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to try to gain control — and then get the United States out — of a worsening conflict. Obama's plan is to start pulling U.S. forces out of Afghanistan in July.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Obama looks to boost troops on surprise trip

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama looks to boost troops on surprise trip

    >>> the unemployment numbers came out, as savannah mentioned, the president turned up in afghanistan . and chuck todd , on the white house lawn, has that part of the story. chuck, good evening.

    >> reporter: good evening, brian . what made this trip doubly surprising is it happened today, a day of the jobs report, the day of the debt commission, and in the midst of this tax negotiation with a gridlocked congress, and all of it for a trip to afghanistan secretly done that was designed simply to boost troop morale. the president turned up in the dark of night at bagram airfield in afghanistan today. president obama was last seen at the white house hanukkah reception last night at 6:44 p.m .

    >> happy hanukkah , everybody.

    >> reporter: just at 9:30 p.m ., he snuck off for a 13-hour flight, landing at 11:00 this morning in afghanistan . on the ground for less than four hours, the president was briefed by his team, led by general david petraeus , and ambassador carl eikenberry. although high winds prevented the president was taking a helicopter to kabul for a planned meeting with president karzai, the two did speak by phone. it was just two weeks ago, the two sat across the table from each other at the nato summit in portugal. but the central focus of this visit to afghanistan was to give a holiday morale boost to the troops.

    >> i want to make sure that i could spend a little time this holiday with the men and women of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known, and that's all of you.

    >> reporter: the president also discussed the mission.

    >> we said we were going to break the taliban's momentum, and that's what you're doing. you're going on the offense. tired of playing defense.

    >> reporter: and he scored one easy applause line about their paycheck.

    >> you may have noticed during these tough budget times, i took the step for freezing pay for our federal workforce. but because of the service that you render, all who wear the uniform of the united states of america are exempt from that action.

    >> reporter: all dramatic theater on a day when the president faced a flurry of pressing issues at home, include including rising unemployment and a congress gridlocked over taxes.

    >> it's jarring to find the president going off to afghanistan on a trip that might well have taken place closer to christmas.

    >> reporter: the president's abrupt departure left the vice president to deal with today's bad jobs news. while on the ground, brian , the president handed out personally five purple hearts and by the way, this is december. there's going to be a big review supposedly of the afghanistan strategy. but a couple people close to the strategy review said to me a while ago the whole nato decision to put the deadline for troops of 2014 largely means this december review, there's not much to it.

    >> chuck, let's talk about secrecy. you heard the vice president say i'm not at bagram. that was part of the feint. secrets can be kept. electronics are taken away, they're told to tell no one, and the deal has been if the secret gets out, they're going to turn air force around and come home.

    >> it's been a practice due to war zones. any time you saw it with president bush and we've seen it continued with president obama , that the press corps does agree to these rules, the traveling press corps that does go with the president on these trips, brian .

    >> on this big day of economic news domestically as we said. chuck todd , savannah guthrie , thanks to you both.

Photos: 2013

loading photos...
  1. Afghan youths light candles in front of the destroyed palace of Darul Aman to mark the killing of civilians by the communist regime during the Russian occupation, in Kabul on Sept. 29, 2013. Afghanistan held two days of mourning to mark the deaths of 5,000 people killed under the communist regime in 1970s. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. NATO soldiers take cover behind an armored vehicle as they defuse explosive materials recovered during an operation in Ghazni, on Sept. 20. (Naweed Haqjoo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Miners carry the body of one of their colleagues following a mine collapse in Ruyi Du Ab district on Sept. 16. The coal mine in a remote area of Samangan province caved in after a gas explosion on Sept. 14, and at least 28 miners were confirmed dead, officials said. (Farshad Usyan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A boy runs on Sept. 15 near a massive compound that ex-jihadist warlord Haji Mohammad Almas Zahid is building in the fields of Parwan province. The complex is known to villagers as "The Palace." (Wakil Kohsar / for NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Afghan security officials take positions during a gunbattle with suspected militants outside the US consulate in Herat on Sept. 13. Taliban militants claimed responsibility for the attack. (Jalil Rezayee / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Soccer fans celebrate after Afghanistan's national team won the South Asian Football Federation championship, in Kabul on Sept. 12. President Hamid Karzai embraced Afghanistan's victorious team after they united the nation in a rare moment of shared joy, but officials also told jubilant Afghans to stop firing guns into the air in celebration. The team beat India 2-0 to win the championship in Kathmandu, Afghanistan's first international soccer title, sending tens of thousands of joyous Afghans into the streets. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Afghan security forces arrive at the site of a suicide attack in Maidan Shar, the capital of Wardak province, on Sept. 8. At least four Afghan intelligence agents were killed and more than one hundred people were wounded, the provincial government said. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A farmer works on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif on Sept. 5. Only about 15 percent of Afghanistan's land, mostly in scattered valleys, is suitable for farming with about 6 percent of the land actually cultivated. (Farshad Usyan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Children climb on a fence as they sell tea in Kabul on Sept. 4. A tea vendor earns an average of $1 a day. (Mohammad Ismail / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Men stand near a destroyed car after floods in the Shakar Dara district of Kabul on Aug. 11. At least 22 people were killed and farmland was damaged when flash floods hit a plain near the capital, officials said. (Mohammad Ismail / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A man washes his horse in Kabul on Aug. 4. (Mohammad Ismail / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Afghan security officials at the scene of a bomb blast in Jalalabad on Aug. 4. A remote-controlled bomb targeting the vehicle carrying state prosecutor Abdul Qayoom went off, injuring Qayoom along with 16 others. (Abdul Mueed / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Men swim in a public pool in Herat on July 20. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Men eat and drink tea in an old restaurant ahead of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in Kabul on July 7. Throughout the month, devout Muslims must abstain from food and drink from dawn until sunset when they break the fast with the Iftar meal. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Afghanistan National Army (ANA) soldiers walk with an arrested Taliban fighter, center, at an army station on the outskirts of Jalalabad on July 7. Three Taliban fighters were killed and one arrested after they attacked a police checkpoint on the Kabul-Jalalabad highway, officials said. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Afghan men shout slogans in support of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi in Kabul on July 5. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Afghan security forces arrive following a suicide bombing in Kabul on July 2. Militants blew up a suicide car bomb at the gate to a NATO compound in Kabul and attacked guards with small-arms fire, killing four guards and two civilians, police said. All four suicide attackers were also killed. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A would-be suicide attacker lies on the ground after his vest was defused in Jalalabad province on June 30. Afghan security forces captured the man before he blew himself up. (Parwiz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. A policeman keeps watch as two schoolgirls walk near the entrance of the presidential palace in Kabul on June 25. Taliban militants targeted the presidential palace, detonating two vehicles at an entrance to the complex. (Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Afghans chant anti-government slogans after burning a truck believed to be owned by foreigners during a demonstration in Kabul on June 24. The protest centered around government plans to develop a subdivision in the capital on land that has long been occupied by squatters. Demonstrators blocked two main roads out of the city, and said they would continue their protests until the government gave them somewhere else to live. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A Taliban flag is visible through a gap in a wall of the new office of the Afghan Taliban in Doha, Qatar, on June 20. The flag and other fanfare surrounding the militants' opening of an office in the Gulf state threatened to derail planned discussions with U.S. officials. (Osama Faisal / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    A wounded man is helped during a car bomb attack in Kabul on June 11. A suicide attack on buses carrying workers from Afghanistan’s Supreme Court killed at least 14 civilians and injured 38 others, police said. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Afghan security forces stand guard at the site of a suicide attack near Kabul military airport on June 10. All seven militants who launched the attack died in the assault, Afghan police said. (Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A girl stands in the doorway of her house in the old sector of Herat on June 5. Over a third of Afghans are living in abject poverty, as those in power are more concerned with addressing their vested interests rather than the basic needs of the population, a UN report said. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. An Afghan security official is surrounded by the shadows of colleagues as he keeps watch at the scene of an attack in Jalalabad late on May 29. Militants launched a two-hour suicide and gun attack on a Red Cross office, killing one guard, officials said. It was the first time that Red Cross offices had been targeted since the organization began work in Afghanistan in 1987. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    A man looks at the dead body of a suicide attacker after he was killed by security personnel in Panjshir province on May 29. Six Taliban insurgents, some wearing suicide vests, attacked the governor's compound in the fiercely anti-Taliban Panjshir valley, killing one policeman, officials say. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Police take cover during a gunbattle following a suicide attack in Kabul on May 24. A suicide bomber struck in the heart of the Afghan capital, sending a plume of smoke billowing over Kabul and setting up a gunbattle in the second major attack in the city in little over a week, police said. (Ahmad Jamshid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Children run away after an explosion in Kabul on May 24. Several large explosions rocked a busy area in the center of the Afghan capital. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Police carry away a wounded person after a suicide bomber struck outside a provincial council headquarters in Pul-i-Khumri, Baghlan province, northern Afghanistan, on May 20. The council chief and 14 others were killed, police said. Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the bombing, saying the killing of civilians shows the “true nature” of the Taliban. (Jawed Basharat / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Children peer through a fence that surrounds a swimming pool on a hill overlooking Kabul on May 17. The swimming pool built by the Soviets more then 30 years ago has rarely been used. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. U.S. soldiers from the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade and a Polish soldier, center, carry a dog on a stretcher from a UH-60 Black Hawk medevac helicopter during a training drill at Forward Operating Base Ghazni on May 17. (Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. A U.S. soldier arrives at the scene where a suicide car bomber attacked a NATO convoy in Kabul on May 16. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. A woman harvests wheat on the outskirts of Kabul on May 15. Afghans mainly use wheat to feed their animals. (Ahmad Jamshid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Police arrive at the site where a police vehicle was hit by a remote-control bomb in the Kama district of Jalalabad province, east of Kabul, on May 11. The bomb killed and wounded several policemen, a local government spokesman said. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A displaced man fixes his roof as the weather takes a turn for the worse, bringing rain and high winds at a refugee camp in Kabul on May 10. Thousands of Afghans displaced by the war live in slum-like conditions in camps on the edge of the capital. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. Farmers collect raw opium as they work in a poppy field in Khogyani district of Jalalabad of May 10. Opium poppy cultivation has been increasing for a third year in a row and is heading for a record high, the U.N. said in a report. Poppy cultivation is also dramatically increasing in areas of the southern Taliban heartland, the report showed, especially in regions where thousands of U.S.-led coalition troops have been withdrawn or are in the process of departing. The report indicates that whatever international efforts have been made to wean local farmers off the crop have failed. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Afghan Army soldiers gather at a military training facility on the outskirts of Kabul on May 8. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A foreign girl pops an ollie on her skateboard as Afghan youths gather for the Sound Central Festival at the French Cultural Center in Kabul on May 2. The Sound Central Festival, now on its second year, is the only event of its kind that takes places in Afghanistan, where music was banned by the Taliban until the end of 2001. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Young men cheer as Afghan and foreign musicians perform during the Sound Central Festival at the French Cultural Center in Kabul on May 1. The concert is part of a cross-cultural program to increase awareness of music and the arts in Afghanistan. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. A man visits a wounded relative in the hospital in Kandahar on April 26, after a bus collided with the wreckage of a truck that was attacked by Taliban insurgents in Maiwand district. Scores of people aboard the bus were killed in the fiery crash, officials said. (Allauddin Khan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. A street vendor sells balloons as he walks through the Karte Sakhi cemetery in Kabul on April 26. The cemetery, located at the foot of Kabul's TV Mountain, is located near the Karte Sakhi Shrine, the second most sacred place of Shia worship in the country. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. A woman stands in her home after it was damaged by a powerful earthquake in Charbagh village in Nangarhar province on April 24. Seven people were killed, dozens injured and many homes destroyed when a powerful earthquake struck eastern Afghanistan, officials said. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Police officers from the anti-corruption Shafafiyat unit work on documents at their office in Kabul, April 23. Afghanistan's security forces are routinely accused of murder, rape and corruption on a grand scale, but the anti-corruption police unit's sole conviction last year was a junior policeman who forged some documents, the head of the unit told Reuters. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. U.S. soldiers along with members of Afghan National Army (ANA) march from the Forward Base Honaker Miracle at Watahpur District in Kunar province into the fields on the foot of Operating Post Rocky during a joint patrol led by the ANA to conduct artillery fire training on April 18. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Relatives gather beside the body of Afghan men who were allegedly killed by Iranian soldiers while they were crossing the Afghan-Iran border, outside the Iranian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, April 18. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Iranian Embassy to demonstrate against the alleged killing of the men. (Jalil Rezayee / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. An Afghan woman waits in a changing room to try out a new Burqa, in a shop in the old city of Kabul, April 11. Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the Burqa was infrequently worn in cities. While they were in power, the Taliban required the wearing of a Burqa in public. Officially, it is not required under the present Afghan regime, but local warlords still enforce it in southern Afghanistan. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter arrives at the scene of a NATO helicopter that crashed, killing two American service members in a field near Gerakhel, eastern Afghanistan, April 9. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

    The lifeless bodies of Afghan children lay on the ground before their funeral ceremony, after a NATO airstrike killed several Afghan civilians, including ten children during a fierce gun battle with Taliban militants in Shultan, Shigal district, Kunar, eastern Afghanistan, April 7. The U.S.-led coalition confirms that airstrikes were called in by international forces during the Afghan-led operation in a remote area of Kunar province near the Pakistan border. (Naimatullah Karyab / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. An Afghan army soldier stands guard in the destroyed courthouse in Farah, western Afghanistan, April 4. Suicide bombers disguised as Afghan soldiers stormed a courthouse in a failed bid to free more than a dozen Taliban prisoners. Dozens of people, including the nine attackers were reported killed in the fighting. The assault in Farah province was the latest example of the Taliban's ability to strike official institutions despite tight security measures. (Hoshang Hashimi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. An Afghan policeman offers evening prayers on a hill overlooking Kabul, March 31. (Ahmad Jamshid / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. Afghan elders attend a meeting hours after their villages were raided by a combined force of roughly 1,250 Afghans and 175 Americans on March 26. U.S. Brigade commander Col. Joseph "J.P." McGee listens with his U.S. translator, standing, and the Afghan police and army commanders in Khogyani district, Nangarhar province. (Kim Dozier / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, shakes hands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, right, as U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan, James Cunningham looks on at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on March 25. Kerry landed in Afghanistan for an unannounced visit, with relations badly frayed by Kabul's recent hostility to U.S.-led military efforts in the country. (Jason Reed / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  53. An Afghan prisoner leaves with his belongings from the Parwan Detention Facility after the U.S. military gave control of the last detention facility to Afghan authorities in Bagram, outside Kabul, March 25. The handover of Parwan Detention Facility ends a bitter chapter in American relations with President Hamid Karzai, who demanded control of the prison as a matter of national sovereignty. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  54. Afghan men peer through the former window of their destroyed school in the village of Budyali, Nangarhar province, March 19. Taliban militants attacked the nearby district headquarters in July 2011, then took refuge in the school. The Afghan National Army requested help from coalition forces, who responded with drones, fighter jets and rockets, leaving the school destroyed, according to village elders. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  55. Afghan boys study at a makeshift school in the village of Budyali, Nengarhar Province, March 19. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  56. Men in Kabul chant "U.S. special operations forces out!" as several hundred demonstrators march to the Afghan parliament building to protest the continued presence of U.S. commandos in Wardak province, March 16. The demonstrators are demanding the release of nine local citizens they believe were detained by the U.S. forces. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  57. An Afghan military officer falls asleep as he attends a graduation ceremony at the National Military Academy in Kabul on March 13. NATO is aiming to train 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police by the end of 2014 to ensure stability in Afghanistan, but challenges remain. Analysts have warned the country could plunge into another large-scale civil war after the NATO-led force departs by 2015. (Shah Marai / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  58. U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel steps aboard a C-17 military aircraft in Kabul as he prepares to return to Washington on March 11. Hagel ended his three day visit to Afghanistan, his first as Secretary of Defense. (Jason Reed / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  59. Sher Khan Farnoud, former Chairman of Kabul Bank, attends a hearing at a court in Kabul, March 5. Khalilullah Ferozi the former CEO and Sher Khan Farnoud the former Chairman of Kabul bank were sentenced to five years in jail by a special court in Kabul for their involvement in embezzlement of millions of dollars during their tenure as CEO and Chairman. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  60. Afghan Hazara and visiting foreign skiers set off at the start of the Afghan Ski Challenge in the Shahidan Valley of Bamiyan province, March 1. Seventeen Afghans and twelve foreigners participated in the third annual Afghan Ski Challenge in Bamiyan during which the Afghan Hazara men won the first three positions. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  61. An Afghan soldier walks by a damaged bus following a suicide attack in Kabul, Feb. 27. A man wearing a black overcoat and carrying an umbrella as a shelter against the heavy snow crossed a street in the Afghan capital early Wednesday morning toward an idling bus filled with Afghan soldiers, where he laid down and wiggled underneath. Then he exploded, engulfing the undercarriage of the bus in flames. (Musadeq Sadeq / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  62. More than five hundred men marched through the capital of Afghanistan's restive Wardak province on Feb. 26 in an outburst of anger against U.S. special forces accused of overseeing torture and killings in the area. A U.S. defense official in Washington said a review in recent months, in cooperation with Afghanistan's Defence Ministry and National Directorate of Security (NDS) intelligence agency, found no involvement of Western forces in any abuse. (Mirwais Harooni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  63. Jawanmard Paiz, left and Fawad Mohammadi, stars of the Oscar-Nominated movie 'Buzkashi Boys,' arrive on the red carpet for the 85th Annual Academy Awards, Feb. 24 in Hollywood, Calif. (Joe Klamar / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  64. Students study at a dormitory of Nangarhar University on the outskirts of Jalalabad, Feb. 23. Fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan consumes most of the country's resources and rebuilding the educational system is not a political priority. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  65. Former Taliban militants attend a ceremony with the Afghan government after handing over their weapons in Herat, Feb. 17. About 35 former Taliban militants from Herat province handed over their weapons as part of a peace-reconciliation program. (Hoshang Hoshimi / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  66. Afghan National Army officers shake hands with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, center, during a conference at the National Miltary Academy in Kabul on Feb. 16. Afghanistan has committed to taking full responsibility for its own security after U.S. forces leave, and the White House said Afghan security forces now number 352,000 troops, thanks to a broad NATO training effort. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  67. A female member of Afghan special forces aims her pistol during a training exercise on the outskirts of Kabul, Jan. 14. Afghanistan's army is training female special forces to take part in night raids against insurgents despite cultural taboos, as foreign combat troops recede ahead of their eventual departure. In a country where women traditionally are expected to stay home, their participation in the special forces is breaking new ground in ultraconservative Afghanistan. (Musadeq Sadeq / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  68. A wounded Afghan boy receives treatment at a hospital in Kunar province on Feb. 13. A NATO air strike killed 10 civilians, mostly women and children, in a raid on a Taliban hideout in a remote region of eastern Afghanistan, local officials said. "Five children, four women and a man were killed in the raid," Kunar provincial governor, Sayed Fazulullah Wahidi, told AFP. (Namatullah Karyab / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  69. A model presents a traditional Afghan dress at a fashion show, launched by Young Women for Change (YWC), in Kabul, Feb. 8. The YWC organization is made up of volunteers across Afghanistan, who organize events to help empower Afghan women and improve their lives through social and economic participation. The creations at the fashion show are designed by Afghan women. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  70. Afghan men chant for justice and punishment for kidnapping gangs involved in the killing of a boy during a demonstration in Herat on Feb. 2. Thousands of Afghan men and women gathered to protest the killing. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  71. A member of the Afghan National Army provides security with a soldier from the U.S. Army's Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry Regiment during a patrol near Command Outpost AJK (short for Azim-Jan-Kariz, a near-by village) in Maiwand District, Kandahar Province, Jan. 31. (Andrew Burton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  72. Afghan school children study at an open classroom in the outskirts of Jalalabad, Jan. 30. Afghanistan has had only rare moments of peace over the past 30 years, its education system was undermined by the Soviet invasion of 1979, a civil war in the 1990s and five years of Taliban rule. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  73. Afghan security forces run on the roof of the Kabul traffic police headquarters as it is attacked by insurgents in Kabul, Jan. 21. A coordinated attack involving at least three suicide bombers and a powerful car bomb took aim at the headquarters, followed by a clash between at least one insurgent and security forces. (Omar Sobhani / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  74. A soldier from 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 36th Infantry surfs the internet during down time at Strong Point DeMaiwand, Maywand District, Kandahar Province, Jan. 20. (Andrew Burton / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  75. An Afghan midwife attends her graduation ceremony at the governor's house, in Jalalabad, Jan. 16. Over 52 midwives graduated after receiving 2 years of training. (Rahmat Gul / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  76. A man who was injured in a suicide bomb attack targeting the office of the Afghan Intelligence agency, leaves the scene, in Kabul, Jan. 16. Six Taliban suicide bombers attacked Afghanistan's National Security Directorate office in downtown Kabul, injuring more than 30 people, most of whom were civilians, police said. One of the bombers exploded himself at the gate and rest were killed by the Afghan security forces before they would enter. (S. Sabawoon / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  77. President of Pentagon Memorial Fund James Laychak touches the banch of his brother David Laychak as he and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, left, accompany Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a visit to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, Jan. 10, in Arlington, Virginia. Karzai made a visit to Washington, where he met with President Barack Obama at the White House, to discuss the continued transition in Afghanistan and the partnership between the two nations. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  78. Governor of the Afghan province of Nangarhar, Gul Agha Sherzai, right, shakes hands with former Afghan prisoners during a ceremony in Jalalabad on Jan. 3, after their release from Bagram Prison. Some twenty prisoners, who had been accused of working with the Taliban, were released. (Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  79. An Afghan man poses for a portrait at a refugee camp in Herat on Jan. 2, 2013. Hundreds of families living in makeshift shelters around the Afghan capital Kabul collected blankets, charcoal and other supplies on Jan. 2 as authorities struggle to avoid last year's deadly winter toll. With temperatures dropping to -10 Celsius (14 Fahrenheit) at night in the city, the 35,000 refugees who live in the snow-covered camps face a battle to survive dire conditions protected only by plastic sheeting. (Aref Karimi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  80. NATO troops from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) participate in celebrations on New Year's Eve in Kabul on Dec. 31, 2012. Thousands of NATO troops across Afghanistan celebrated the new year away from their homes. (Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  1. Image: AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-SOCIETY
    Massoud Hossaini / AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (80) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2013
  2. Image: AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN-BORDER
    Noorullah Shirzada / AFP - Getty Images
    Slideshow (139) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2012
  3. Image:
    Rahmat Gul / AP
    Slideshow (234) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2011
  4. Image:
    Altaf Qadri / AP
    Slideshow (158) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2010
  5. Image: U.S. army soldiers from Task Force Denali 1-40 Cav reposition a 105mm Howitzer during snowfall at FOB Wilderness in Paktya province
    Zohra Bensemra / Reuters
    Slideshow (88) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2009: Troops
  6. Image: Afghan protesters shout slogans during a protest in Kabul
    Ahmad Masood / Reuters
    Slideshow (31) Afghanistan: Nation at a crossroads - 2009: Civilians

Interactive: NATO summit

  1. Above: Interactive NATO summit
  2. Interactive Nine years of war

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments