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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Blair Offers Support in Afghan Visit

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair made an unannounced midnight visit to Afghanistan on Monday to demonstrate a commitment to a nation cleaning up the legacy of a war he enthusiastically supported.

Amid tight security, Blair and wife Cherie arrived on a military flight from Pakistan to meet with Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and British troops at Bagram airfield outside Kabul.

"I feel enormous pride in what has been accomplished here," Blair told reporters after meeting with Karzai. "But the work is not complete," he noted, adding that the very difficult process of rebuilding has just begun.

The Afghan people "have suffered a very great deal in the past 20 years. But we do desire to be the partners of people here," he said. "The long-term commitment of Britain will remain long after its peacekeeping forces are withdrawn from the country. The world is not going to walk away."

The international community turned its back on Afghanistan after the Soviets withdrew in 1989, and the country fell into the hands of the repressive Taliban regime, he said.

"A terrible evil erupted in the streets of New York," Blair said, referring to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. That happened, he said, because areas in and around Afghanistan lacked aid and monitoring by the international community.

"The whole region became a breeding ground for acts of terrorism," he said. "Afghanistan has been a failed state for too long and the whole world has paid the price -- in the export of terror, the export of drugs and finally in the explosion of death and destruction on the streets of the U.S.

"It is in all our interests that Afghanistan becomes a stable country, part of the international community once more," he said.

Blair said the coalition against terrorism has made huge strides, leading to an interim Afghan administration aimed at building a new future.

"Who could have thought a few months ago, when many people were saying this action was a mistake, that today the Taliban is gone," Blair said. "The Taliban network has certainly been destroyed."

Turning to Karzai, he said, "The interim government has been in place what, two weeks now?" Then he told reporters: "I think you should give it a chance."

The one-hour flight was on a camouflaged RAF Hercules transport plane fully loaded to counter a missile attack. Blair sat in the flight deck, the plane's internal lights dimmed to red for takeoff, then extinguished completely. The aircraft was depressurized at high altitude for a stomach-churning landing at the equally darkened airfield.

The short visit to Afghanistan came at the end of Blair's tour of the subcontinent, which was largely overshadowed by tensions between India and Pakistan. He was the first British leader to visit Afghanistan.