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President Obama makes surprise visit to Afghanistan

Posted at 1:47 PM, May 25, 2014
and last updated 2014-05-25 13:47:16-04

(CNN) — President Barack Obama landed Sunday in Afghanistan on an unannounced trip to visit with U.S. forces on Memorial Day weekend.

This marks his fourth trip to the country, with his last being on May 1, 2012, when he made an address to the United States about the country’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Obama’s Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes, who is traveling with the President, told reporters that the visit is “an opportunity for the President to thank American troops and civilians for their service.”

The United States has been fighting in Afghanistan for more than twelve years, which is the U.S.’s longest war.

Country music star Brad Paisley traveled aboard Air Force One with the President. He performed for some of the 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan at a major rally.

Obama will make remarks at the event, before heading to a hospital to visit troops.

Air Force One left late Saturday night and arrived at Bagram Air Field Sunday morning Eastern time.

Also traveling with Obama is National Security Adviser Susan Rice and adviser John Podesta, whose son is currently serving in Afghanistan. Others aboard Air Force One were senior aides Dan Pfeiffer and Rhodes.

His trip comes as his administration is facing criticism over how it has handled prolonged wait-times and other health care issues for veterans.

Rhodes said the VA scandal was not “a factor in the planning of this trip,” but said Obama would talk to veterans about support troops and vets will have once they return home.

Obama will not meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai who is in the middle of a reelection campaign with two other candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani. Rhodes said the President “didn’t want to get in the middle of election season.”

The Obama administration is also still deciding whether any U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Obama is set to address foreign policy later this week in a speech at West Point, where he’s set to lay out his vision for how the U.S. should apply force around the world.

CNN’s Jim Acosta and Ashley Killough contributed to this report.