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Breaking: Obama in Afghanistan to sign pact

President Barack Obama is in Afghanistan for a whirlwind visit that will culminate in a live, televised address to the American people tonight, according to pool reports just forwarded by the White House.

Obama is expected to sign a strategic partnership agreement shortly with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, pledging U.S. support for Afghanistan for a decade after NATO forces’ planned end to combat operations in 2014. The president will address the nation at 4:30 p.m. PDT today.

UPDATE @ 5:10 P.M.: Here’s the speech…

For the pool report’s text, follow us after the jump…

Here’s the verbatim report from POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein:

President Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan under cover of darkness Tuesday night for a whirlwind trip scheduled to culminate with a live, televised address to the American people delivered from Bagram Air Base outside the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Strict security measures are in place, including a White House imposed embargo that prevented journalists in the pool from reporting on Obama’s travel until he arrived at the Presidential Palace at about 11:30 PM local Tuesday night.

Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai are expected to sign a ten page strategic partnership agreement pledging US support for Afghanistan for a decade after 2014, when NATO forces are planning to conclude their combat role. The signing ceremony with the two presidents should paint a tableau of solidarity for an Afghan US relationship that has been stormy and at time fractious during the three years of Obama’s presidency.

Senior Administration officials said the unconventional timing of events on the trip, such as the scheduled midnight local time signing ceremony, was aimed at allowing Obama to address Americans on a schedule convenient for US television audiences. That speech, expected to run about 10 minutes, is scheduled to take place just after 730 pm ET tuesday, which is 4 AM here in Afghanistan.

Of course, the middle of the night schedule also provides the added security of darkness for the arrival and departure of AF1 and flights by helicopter from Bagram to and from a landing zone near the presidential palace. While US officials insist security has improved significantly since the US troop buildup Obama ordered at the end of 2009, there have beena series of troubling incidents in recent months including riots relating to the Qu’ran burning episode, Afghan on US troop violence, and a protracted gun and RPG battle in Kabul’s embassy district just over two weeks ago.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.