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Obama Makes Surprise Trip to Afghanistan to Visit Troops Before Memorial Day

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(KABUL, Afghanistan) -- Barack Obama traveled to Afghanistan on Sunday in secret, landing at Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military base in the country.

Traveling with the president is country music star Brad Paisley, who will play a surprise concert for the troops this Memorial Day Weekend. Obama is expected to spend about five hours at the base, speaking with troops and visiting wounded soldiers.

Obama left Bagram Airfield shortly before 4 p.m. EDT and is expected to land back in Washington on Monday morning at about 11 a.m.

The trip is Obama'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 14.

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 have been looking for some period of time to come to Afghanistan. After the first round of the election, we thought it would be a good time to come for 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.

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