Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was scheduled to address Congress Wednesday as part of a five-day visit to the U.S. aimed to improve U.S.-Afghan relations, which had soured under Ghani's predecessor, Hamid Karzai. His speech follows the announcement Tuesday by President Barack Obama that the withdrawal of American forces in Afghanistan will be slowed so that 9,800 troops will remain in the country until the end of 2015, if not longer.
"Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place, and insurgents still launch attacks, including cowardly suicide bombings against civilians," Obama said Tuesday in announcing the slowdown in the troop withdrawal. Indeed, just hours before Ghani was scheduled to address Congress, a suicide bombing took place in Kabul, killing at least seven people, AFP reported.
Ghani's speech was scheduled for 11 a.m. EDT in Washington, and his visit comes at a time when the U.S. sees him as a fresh and willing partner -- a reason to keep troops in Afghanistan rather than pull them out as fighting continues between Taliban and Afghan government forces. "This is a qualitatively different relationship than we had with President Karzai," Jeff Eggers, senior director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the National Security Council, told Foreign Policy.
The Afghan president seemed to be treating his visit as a chance to make amends with the Americans, who largely viewed Karzai as uncooperative and antagonizing. Ghani has adopted a markedly different, grateful tone this past week. "I'd like to say thank you," he said Tuesday in a joint news conference with Obama. "I would also like to thank the American taxpayer for his and her hard-earned dollars that has enabled us."
Ghani was expected to receive a warm welcome from both sides of the aisle when he takes the podium on Capitol Hill Wednesday. Watch a live stream of his speech here: