Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy paid an unannounced visit Saturday to Spain's troops in Afghanistan, his first such trip since taking office a year ago.
Accompanied by Defense Minister Pedro Morenes, Rajoy landed at the airport in Kabul at 7:00 a.m. on a Spanish air force Airbus.
The trip, which included a meeting Saturday between Rajoy and Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul, had been kept a secret for security reasons, officials said.
Rajoy visited the Spanish-commanded Forward Support Base in Herat and met with soldiers at the base in Qala i Naw, where Spanish troops make up the bulk of the 1,369 troops.
The Spanish delegation also includes the head of the joint chiefs of the Spanish Defense Staff, Adm. Gen. Fernando Garcia Sanchez, and other top military brass.
Rajoy arrived in Afghanistan at the start of a withdrawal process that began last month with a 10 percent troop reduction and was to continue with the pull-out of 40 percent of Spain's troops from the country in 2013 and the remaining 50 percent in 2014.
However, Rajoy said Saturday that Spain's army is prepared to prolong its stay in Herat beyond 2014.
"We have before us a difficult task, which is to consolidate the conditions for completing the transition before the end of 2014 and carrying out the withdrawal," the prime minister said in a speech at the base in that western city.
He described the Herat base as a "fundamental enclave for the development of the (likenamed) province and crucial to the mission" of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in western Afghanistan. EFE