UPDATE 7-Obama visits Afghanistan, says U.S. making progress

Sat Dec 4, 2010 1:03am GMT

* Obama says troops on the offensive, making progress

* Karzai meeting replaced by phone call because of weather

* Visit to focus on troops, not fact-finding for review (Adds details from Obama-Karzai call, paragraph 17)

By Caren Bohan

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Dec 3 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama, paying a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Friday, praised U.S. troops for their sacrifice and "important progress" in a nine-year war that is increasingly unpopular at home.

He spent four hours at an airbase outside the Afghan capital and canceled a planned helicopter trip to Kabul to meet Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai because of bad weather. Instead, the two leaders spoke by telephone.

Obama's second visit to Afghanistan as president came as the White House prepared to release a review of the war's strategy in the week of Dec. 13, and the day after leaked cables detailed U.S. concerns about Karzai's abilities and widespread fraud in the country.

Neither topic came up during their 15-minute phone conversation, Obama Afghan war adviser Douglas Lute told reporters aboard Air Force One as the president flew home.

The U.S. president is under pressure to show progress in a war that many are wearying of after nearly a decade, and told nearly 4,000 troops gathered in a hangar to hear him that they were gaining ground against insurgents.   Continued...

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