World

Barack Obama begins visit to Afghanistan

U.S. presidential contender Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan on Saturday morning to start a seven-country tour of the Middle East and Europe.

U.S. presidential contender Barack Obama raised his foreign policy profile Saturday with a visit to Afghanistan as he continued a foreign tour that will take him to the Middle East and Europe.

The Democratic senator from Illinois left Washington on Thursday and stopped first in Kuwait to visit U.S. troops, according to Obama campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs.

Obama arrived in Kabul on Saturday around 5:30 a.m. local time as part of an official congressional delegation that planned to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai before flying to eastern Afghanistan.

A military spokesman said Obama and two other senators were making a brief stop in Jalalabad airfield, in Nangarhar province, to visit with soldiers stationed there.

Analysts said he would also be talking to senior U.S. military commanders at Bagram Air Base, the main U.S. military base in the country, to discuss security issues, which are seen as the weakest aspect of his presidential bid.

Plan to shift emphasis from Iraq to Afghanistan

"I want to, obviously, talk to the commanders and get a sense, both in Afghanistan and in Baghdad of ... what ... their biggest concerns are," Obama told reporters before boarding a military plane for the trip.

Obama has said he intends to end the U.S. military's combat role in Iraq if elected president, but he also wants to send more troops in Afghanistan.

His plan calls for committing at least two more combat brigades, up to 10,000 troops, to Afghanistan, redeploying some of them from Iraq. Such a move would take the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 45,000.

Obama's first visit to Afghanistan, coming less than four months before the general election, was rich with political implications.

Republican presidential rival John McCain has criticized Obama for his lack of time in the region. McCain made his own trip to Europe and the Middle East last March.

Obama was later expected to visit Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Germany, France and Britain.

His Iraq itinerary includes talks with Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi leader. Obama has previously said one benefit of withdrawing U.S. troops is that it would pressure al-Maliki to shore up his government as well.

Nonetheless, he said he did not plan to reiterate those messages in person.

"I'm more interested in listening than doing a lot of talking, and I think it's very important to recognize that I'm going over there as a U.S. senator," he said. "We have one president at a time."

The weeklong trip marks his only foreign excursion as a presidential contender. McCain has visited Canada, Colombia and Mexico, in part to highlight Obama's opposition to trade deals with those allies.

With files from the Associated Press