Sunday, March 28, 2010

Obama makes surprise trip to Afghanistan

New York Times
President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Sunday, his first visit as commander in chief to the site of the war he inherited and has stamped as his own.

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While there, Mr. Obama pressed President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan for a crackdown on corruption while strengthening the judicial system and promoting good governance, The Associated Press reported.

After a brief meeting with Mr. Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr. Obama also praised steps in the military campaign against insurgents, but said Afghans needed to see conditions on the ground get better, The A.P. reported.

“Progress will continue to be made, but we also want to make progress on the civilian front,” Mr. Obama was quoted as saying, referring to anti-corruption efforts, good governance and adherence to the rule of law.

“All of these things end up resulting in an Afghanistan that is more prosperous and more secure,” Mr. Obama said, according to The A.P. He invited Karzai to visit Washington on May 12, the White House said.

For his part, Mr. Karzai promised that his country “would move forward into the future” to eventually take over its own security, and he thanked Mr. Obama for the American intervention in his country.

The president landed in Afghanistain, at Bagram Air Base, after a 13-hour nonstop flight for a visit shrouded in secrecy for security reasons and quickly boarded a helicopter for the presidential palace in Kabul. There, Mr. Obama and Mr. Karzai walked and chatted along a red carpet as they made their way to an Afghan color guard, where the national anthems of both countries were played, in a welcoming ceremony that lasted 10 minutes.

White House officials disclosed no information about the trip until Mr. Obama’s plane had landed in Afghanistan, and had even gone so far as to inform reporters that the president would be spending the weekend at Camp David with his family. In fact, Mr. Obama’s trip is occurring during the Afghan night, and he is expected to be on his way back to Washington before most Afghans wake up Monday morning.

Mr. Obama will also meet with some of the tens of thousands of American troops who have been sent to Afghanistan since he took office. His visit with the troops is particularly significant because it comes at the same time that military officials report that the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan has roughly doubled in the first three months of 2010, compared to the same period last year.

The number of soldiers wounded in combat has also spiked dramatically. Military officials have warned that casualties are likely to continue to rise sharply as the Pentagon completes the deployment of 30,000 additional soldiers, per Afghanistan strategy announced by Mr. Obama in November. The reason for the spike, military officials said, is because American forces are aggressively seeking out Taliban insurgents in the country’s population centers, and are planning a major operation in the Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban, in the coming months.

Mr. Obama’s trip caps a high-profile week for the president in which he coupled a singular domestic policy victory — the signing of a health reform bill — with the foreign policy achievement: reaching an arms control agreement with Russia in which the two agreed to slash their nuclear arsenals to the lowest levels in half a century.

Coming on top of that, the Palm Sunday visit to American combat troops by their commander in chief could project the image of a president keeping on top of a number of issues at once.

At the same time, though, Mr. Obama’s visit has been a long time coming. While he visited troops at Camp Victory, Iraq, three months after he was inaugurated, the White House has held off on a presidential visit to Afghanistan as Mr. Obama went through a rigorous months-long review of Afghanistan strategy, and as that country endured the twists and turns of a disputed election.

Even after Mr. Karzai was inaugurated and Mr. Obama announced that he would send an additional 30,000 troops, Mr. Obama put off a trip as he focused on domestic priorities, including a health care bill.

In some ways, the Afghanistan visit serves as a stark reminder that even with health care done, there remain major challenges ahead.

9,000 Afghans die of TB every year

KABUL: According to a recent report written by World Health Organizaytion (WHO), around 9000 Afghans die every year due to affliction with TB (Tuberculosis) in Afghanistan. At a ceremony of the World TB Day held at the auditorium of Kabul Medical University, Dr Suraya Dalil, Policy and Planning Deputy Minister and Acting Public Health Minister of Afghanistan said that number of TB cases in Afghanistan is still shocking despite aggressive combat against this disease. Based on the recent report obtained from WHO (2009) around 51000 new TB cases are being detected among which 9000 die every year. 33000 of these cases, recently reported are women. That is women make 64% of overall TB clients attending health facilities. Among the 22 countries located in Eastern Mediterranean Region, Afghanistan has had the highest rate of TB cases. Added Dr Dalil, the Acting Minister of Public Health. In addition, she pointed that totally 26358 TB cases were detected during year 2009 all of whom were covered by National TB Control Program. Dr Suraya Dalil then added National TB Control Program which was severely damaged by a long term civil war had been resumed not so later than the establishment of Afghanistan Transitional Government. In 2003 the very first strategic plan for TB Control Program was established in cooperation with WHO and some other MoPH partners. Honorable Guest of the ceremony, Marshal Mohammad Qaseem Fahim, the First Vice President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan addressing the World TB Day also said that some chronic diseases such as TB are predisposed by poverty and social deprivation. And he requested the people to contribute to the fight back against Tuberculosis. He, afterwards, told that this disease usually affects individuals in various parts of the country, in particular, the remote areas; and the health workers are obliged to work for elimination of the disease. He highlighted the existence of Stop TB Partnership Board in Afghanistan as a positive action towards elimination of this disease. He pointed that the National TB Control Program of the Ministry of Public Health of Afghanistan has made astonishing achievements in combating Tuberculosis. Meanwhile, Prof. Obaidullah Obaid, chancellor of Kabul Medical University said that TB is a major problem in the world taking lives of thousands of people every year. He also indicated that The Stop TB Partnership Board has worked hard during the past two years so as to stop TB in Afghanistan as well as conducting public awareness programs for Stopping TB.