BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan – British Prime Minister Tony Blair visited Afghanistan early Tuesday to show a commitment to the reconstruction of a nation after a war he enthusiastically supported.
Amid tight security, Blair and his wife, Cherie, arrived on a military flight from Pakistan to meet with Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and British troops at Bagram airport outside Kabul, the capital.
The Blairs were wearing long coats as they stepped off their blacked-out aircraft in the freezing cold. Blair was met by an honor guard and a local military band.
In addition to Karzai, he also was to meet U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. It was unclear if he also would talk to a group of nine U.S. senators who arrived shortly before he did.
The trip, the first by a coalition leader since the military campaign began, "is a signal of our long-term commitment — first of all to Afghanistan, and secondly to this region," Blair's official spokesman told reporters before departing from Islamabad, Pakistan.
"We recognize that there is a legitimate complaint that the West neglected Afghanistan after the Russian war. We recognize that people need to know that we are not here just for today, tomorrow, next week, and then we're gone," said the spokesman, who briefed reporters on condition he not be identified.
"What we've seen is the price you pay for neglect, and the price for turning a blind eye to the problems of the world."
Blair had placed his government "shoulder-to-shoulder" in the military campaign against Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. A British submarine fired cruise missiles on the first day of the U.S.-led military campaign, Royal Air Force tankers escorted U.S. bombing missions, and British special forces were deployed on the ground.
Britain is now leading an international stabilization force in support of Afghanistan's interim government.
The short visit to Afghanistan came at the end of Blair's tour of the subcontinent, which was largely overshadowed by tensions between India and Pakistan. He was the first British leader to visit Afghanistan.
Twenty to 30 British marines were dispatched Sunday to join the 300 British soldiers already serving at Bagram airport, the British Ministry of Defense said.
"They are performing a range of tasks including patrols and repairing airfields," the ministry said in a statement.