She gave Vikings caps to Minnesota soldiers, and says Karzai knows U.S. withdrawal plans are firm.

By KEVIN DIAZ, Star Tribune

Last update: January 3, 2010 - 7:14 PM

WASHINGTON -- It was dateline Kabul on Sunday for U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who traveled with a bipartisan congressional delegation and met with Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. troops from Minnesota.

The surprise New Year's trip -- it was not announced to the public for security reasons -- was Klobuchar's first to Afghanistan. She visited Iraq in spring 2007.

In a phone interview with the Star Tribune, Klobuchar said she stressed that America's commitment would not be open-ended and that significant progress in Afghan governance and the economy needed to be made.

"He was very positive," Klobuchar said of McChrystal, the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. "He knows there are challenges, but he's very focused on the military strategy and making it work."

In a separate statement issued by her office -- datelined from Kabul -- Klobuchar said she was impressed by the U.S. military leadership in Afghanistan, and by the "spirit of our soldiers."

But, she added, "I remain concerned about the strength of the Afghan government and I believe that the trust of the Afghan people in their government is critical for success. There is still much work that needs to be done and that is what I focused on in our meetings."

In the phone interview -- conducted from India, where the delegation went after a day in Kabul and nearby Bagram Air Base -- Klobuchar said that Karzai addressed widespread concerns about opium cultivation in rural Afghanistan and high-level corruption in his own government.

"He knows they have to gain the trust of the Afghan people," she said. Karzai also seemed to understand the Obama administration's intention to start withdrawing U.S. troops after an 18-month surge, according to Klobuchar.

"He understands the deadline is real," Klobuchar said. She presented Vikings football caps to a group of Minnesota soldiers at Bagram Air Base, a lunch meeting that took place hours ahead of the team's victory in its regular season finale against the New York Giants a dozen time zones away.

"They were so excited," Klobuchar said. "They were in good spirits."

Among the Minnesota troops she met was Army Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Votel of St. Paul.

About 72,000 U.S. troops serve in Afghanistan, including several hundred members of the Minnesota Army and Air Force National Guard.

Klobuchar traveled to Afghanistan as part of a Senate delegation led by Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.