Last Updated Dec 21, 2017 4:32 PM EST
Vice President Mike Pence made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Thursday to visit U.S. troops and to hold a key meeting in Kabul to urge Afghanistan’s leaders to move forward with long delayed elections. The trip was cloaked in secrecy with reporters traveling with the vice president in a media blackout until the conclusion of his visit.
After landing at Bagram airfield around 7.15 p.m. local time, Pence traveled via Chinook helicopter to the presidential palace. Poor visibility and security concerns nearly prevented the vice president from landing inside the presidential compound. White House officials said that Pence was determined to wait it out so that he could visit jointly with President Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah who have a shaky alliance in a power-sharing government.
Pence said his presence was tangible evidence of U.S. commitment to Afghanistan. He later met with the pilots who flew him into the palace and acknowledged that it had been a difficult arrival.
Following his meeting, which was less than an hour, Pence returned to Bagram Airfield to speak to U.S. troops and to receive a briefing from Gen. John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan John Bass.
In remarks to U.S. troops, Pence said that his message was that America is in Afghanistan to stay.
Pence is the highest-ranking Trump administration official to visit the country since President Trump announced nearly four months ago that he would intensity a U.S. military effort to help break a stalemate with the Taliban. Since that time, around 3,400 additional U.S. troops have been deployed here bringing the total to more than 14,000 U.S. troops on the ground.
American presidents often visit troops deployed abroad during the holidays. White House officials said that the decision to send Pence rather than Mr. Trump was made in part because of the vice president’s close relationship with Ghani. In an exclusive interview with CBS News he said he speaks once a month to Ghani.
Pence also led the interagency process that presented Mr. Trump with options.
Pence made the long flight from Joint Base Andrews in Maryland to the Bagram air base on board a C-17 military transport aircraft, rather the traditional Boeing plane.
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