July 24th, 2008
07:45 AM ET

Man, does Afghanistan need help

Watch Reza Sayah's report on Senator Barack Obama's trip to Afghanistan
Watch Reza Sayah's report on Senator Barack Obama's trip to Afghanistan

Reza Sayah
CNN International Correspondent

Saturday in Kabul a grungy little boy with big brown eyes chased me for a block, begging me to buy a pack of Juicy Fruit gum. He could not have been more than four years old.

In downtown Kabul women in burqas begged along the streets as monster size U.S. armored vehicles rumbled by. That same day a NATO air strike that was supposed to take out militants killed nine Afghan soldiers instead. Sunday in southeastern Afghanistan two NATO mortar shells missed their targets and killed four civilians.

Man, does Afghanistan need help.

Senator Barak Obama says, if elected president, he can help. This past weekend I went to Afghanistan to cover the Illinois Senator's first ever visit to the war torn country. But I never even got a glimpse of him.

Details of his visit were kept top-secret by his campaign for security reasons. Journalists were kept away with the exception of one pre-arranged interview. Even so, it was an interesting weekend in a country that is now under the same spotlight that used to be on Iraq.

Finding out Senator Obama's schedule and whereabouts wasn't easy. No one was talking, so I just called as many sources as possible hoping to get lucky. Luck came thanks to the Philadelphia Eagles. That sounds strange but let me explain. It turns out a U.S. government source I contacted in Kabul happened to be from Philly, my hometown in the U.S. We talked some football and bonded a little bit (We both agreed the Eagles still need a top-notch wide receiver).

Senator Obama arrived Saturday 11a local time. My Eagles pal was nice enough to tell me he was spending the night in Afghanistan. This was interesting news because Senator McCain's supporters had called Senator Obama's visit nothing but a photo opportunity. Many were convinced he was just going to dash in, take some pictures, and dash out. Spending a night was perhaps an attempt by Senator Obama to show this was more than a photo-op.

Senator Obama also ventured out of Kabul to Jalalabad air-base in eastern Afghanistan. This is a region where, according to the Pentagon, the Taliban has gained strength and the number of attacks has gone up. Maybe this was an attempt by Senator Obama to show critics he's not afraid to go where things are a bit dicier.

On Sunday Senator Obama had breakfast with U.S. troops in Camp Eggers. He then met Afghan President Hamid Karzai before leaving.

This was a crucial visit for Senator Obama for the simple reason that he'd never been here before. When you make Afghanistan the centerpiece of your foreign policy strategy, it's probably a good idea to drop by.

But don't expect Senator McCain's camp to stop attacking Senator Obama on national security issues. McCain is a decorated Navy Captain, a prisoner of war. He's well aware he has an edge among U.S. voters on national security. A recent poll shows voters perceive Senator McCain as better prepared to be commander-in-chief.

Senator Obama's camp hopes his first ever trip to Afghanistan will change some of that perception. His strategy to help Afghanistan is to gradually withdraw troops from Iraq and redeploy them here. Many Afghans are skeptical more soldiers will help a country with a security situation that's going downhill and poverty so bad that four year-olds in the street beg you to buy chewing gum.

Filed under: 360° Radar • Afghanistan • War on Terror
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Annie Kate

    How soon will any troops be deployed to Afghanistan? With violence on the rise and al Queda and the Taliban appearing back in force it seems we are well overdue to pay appropriate attention to Afghanistan and stop the terrorists like we originally set out to do. Sounds like too some food aid is overdue as well.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    July 24, 2008 at 8:51 pm |
  2. NateSC

    If troops are sent to Afganistan it would not even be a surge. A surge is a sudden rise then a drop in troop levels. While this will be a redeployment of assets to the correct theater. Basically what should have been done in the first place.

    July 24, 2008 at 12:31 pm |
  3. deborah, OH

    Of course Afganistan needs help, especially our fighting women & men! Anderson pointed that out a long time ago.

    How, specifically, is Obama going to 'fix' things there. A 'surge'? Where have I heard that before? Hmm. lol.
    Where is all the change & new ideas from either candidate? Just a thought...

    July 24, 2008 at 10:37 am |
  4. Cindy

    Yes...Afghanistan definitely needs help!! I am glad that the media is finally paying it some attention. I hope that once the Obama photo op is over that it won't be forgotten again and kicked to the way side like before!

    It is funny to me that Obama thinks that he can "fix" Afghanistan by doing a surge which he was dead set against for Iraq and swore that it wouldn't help there yet it did. So now he wants to "borrow" that idea and use it in Afghanistan! LOL And who says he comes up with his own ideas!? LOL

    And doesn't he even stop to consider that just moving troops from Iraq to Afghanistan isn't doing much for the troops! I mean when are they supposed to go home as he promised or get any down time?


    July 23, 2008 at 6:47 pm |