BAGRAM AIR BASE, AFGHANISTAN (WKZO) -- President Barack Obama is expected to address the nation Tuesday night live from Afghanistan. Watch LIVE video
Shortly after he arrived, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the strategic partnership pact, which sets out a future U.S. role in Afghanistan, including aid and advisers, while trying to reassure Afghans that they will not be abandoned when most NATO combat troops leave in 2014.
Obama's plane landed with shades drawn at Bagram Airbase, north of Kabul, where only months ago thousands of Afghans rioted after U.S. troops accidentally burned copies of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
Obama got off the plane and then boarded a helicopter with senior aides to meet Karzai at his walled garden palace in Kabul, where they signed the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) and shook hands.
"The wages of war have been great for both our nations," Obama told Karzai, adding that he looked forward to a future of peace.
Obama's trip appeared to have multiple audiences.
To U.S. voters in an election year, he sought to signal that the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan is drawing to a close, and to remind them of the May 2011 raid in Pakistan that killed bin Laden.
Within Afghanistan, the palace signing ceremony may be aimed at sending a message to the Taliban and other insurgent groups that they cannot wait out the 130,000 foreign troops in the country, and retake power.
It could help push the insurgency's leaders to re-enter reconciliation talks with both the U.S. and Afghan government.
But a senior U.S. official cautioned that no matter what pacts are signed, "Afghanistan is still going to be the third poorest country in the world with a 70 percent literacy rate and some huge sectarian schisms."
"This is still going to be tough," the official said, adding that the expectation was that the Afghan government will be able to maintain basic security.
FOREIGN POLICY MESSAGE
As he fights for his re-election, Obama is seeking to portray his foreign policy record as a success.
His campaign has made bin Laden's death a key part of that argument, and the president's visit to the country where militants hatched the September 11, 2001, attacks will reinforce that message.
It also opens him up to criticism from Republicans, who say Obama has politicized bin Laden's death.
Republican Mitt Romney, Obama's likely opponent in the November election, has criticized Obama's handling of Afghanistan, saying the timeline for a withdrawal will only embolden militants and could leave the country vulnerable to a return to power of the Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan prior to the U.S.-led invasion.
The agreement does not specify whether a reduced number of U.S. troops - possibly special forces - and advisers will remain behind after NATO's 2014 withdrawal deadline.
That issue will be dealt with in a separate status of forces agreement expected to take another year to conclude.
After meeting Karzai, Obama was expected to meet troops at Bagram and deliver formal remarks about the Afghanistan war to Americans at 7:30 p.m. EDT (2330 GMT).
The speech will focus on the partnership pact and emphasize his plans to wind down the costly and unpopular Afghanistan war where nearly 3,000 U.S. and NATO soldiers have died since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.
Large parts of central Kabul surrounding Karzai's palace were locked down for the Obama's arrival, with police sealing off streets around the city's walled Green Zone, home to most embassies and NATO's Afghanistan headquarters.
Insurgents staged coordinated attacks in the same area only weeks before, paralyzing the capital's center and diplomatic area for 18 hours. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks, but U.S. and Afghan officials blamed the militant Haqqani network.
After a U.S. troop surge that Obama ordered in late 2009, U.S. and NATO forces have managed to weaken Taliban militants, but the movement is far from defeated.
The White House wants to paint Obama's strategy in Afghanistan as successful, despite continued violence there and problems with corruption that have raised concerns about the country's future stability.
Obama plans to host NATO leaders in Chicago on May 20-21 for a summit to discuss the specifics of the troop withdrawals and look at ways to ensure that Afghanistan does not collapse into civil war when foreign forces leave.
The strategic partnership agreement could also help paper over strains in relations between Washington and Kabul which have been hurt by a number of incidents involving U.S. soldiers that have infuriated public opinion, including the massacre of 17 civilians in Kandahar and the Koran burnings at Bagram in February.
Negotiations on the SPA were delayed for months until U.S. negotiators agreed to Karzai's demands to hand over operation of American prisons in the country to Afghan control and give leadership of night raids on homes to Afghan forces.