Afghan president visits US soldiers at Fort Campbell headed to fight in his country

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai capped a four-day U.S. visit on Friday by meeting American soldiers getting ready to fight in his country.

Karzai visited Fort Campbell on the Tennessee-Kentucky border, home of the 101st Airborne Division. The post has already sent three brigades to Afghanistan and three more are expected to deploy this summer, for a total of about 20,000 troops.

The visit follows Karzai's stops with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and a walk through Arlington Cemetery during his stay for talks in Washington D.C.

Reporters were not allowed into Karzai's meetings with soldiers. Maj. Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of the 101st Airborne, said Karzai chose to visit his troops because of their key role in the next six to 12 months in Afghanistan.

Campbell said Karzai thanked troops and their families for their service in his country and met briefly with soldiers from the division's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, who were leaving Friday to deploy to Kandahar Province. The southern province is the Taliban's birthplace and where the military is seeking this summer to take control from insurgents.

"He was able to talk to those soldiers just before they boarded the aircraft, shake all their hands and thank them for their selfless service," he said.

This was the Afghan leader's first trip to a U.S. military installation, according to Kelly DeWitt, a spokeswoman for Fort Campbell.

Campbell said his soldiers were the face of the military buildup in Afghanistan that President Barack Obama dispatched to stop the rising insurgency.

"What we tell our soldiers is that 2010-2011 is the year that we turn Afghanistan," Campbell said. "So I think he understands the importance and the urgency we have here."

Campbell said Karzai was supportive of the soldiers and told them of the progress in Afghanistan — from new schools to improvement in women's rights — that has been made over the last nine years of war.

"When you get him away from everything else and put him with those soldiers, you can tell his heartfelt concerns are with the people of his country and he recognizes the great sacrifices of our families and soldiers and he knows there's still a long fight to go," he said.