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US troops in Iraq, Afghanistan cheer on Obama

Reuters
Jan 21, 2009 at 05:08pm IST

Kabul: On the outskirts of the Afghan capital, about 100 US troops filled a brightly-lit canteen on Tuesday (January 20), to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, who inherits a tough fight in Afghanistan.

As the newly sworn-in 44th US president pledged to "forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan", the troops chanted "Obama", and gave a standing ovation, mirroring a live telecast from the steps of Capitol Hill, projected onto a giant screen.

"They are exited. I am pretty sure my grandparents are in the living room, reflecting on marching with Dr King (Martin Luther King) and now watching an inauguration with Barack Obama, it's outstanding," a 22-year-old Specialist from Chicago, Tiffany Givens, said.

HAWAIIAN HERITAGE: In Obama, the Japanese city which shares its name with the new President Hula dancers performed in Obama's honor.

"For Camp Phoenix this is an extremely significant event watching our hometown senator set to be our next Commander-in-Chief. As you know Task Force Phoenix is made up primarily of Illinois national guardsmen and women and watching this event Barack Obama, our former senator, is now our Commander-in- Chief, one we will proudly serve and serve with honour," Commander of the 33rd Brigade Infantry Team who are based at Camp Phoenix, Stephen Huber, told Reuters.

Obama is expected to sign-off plans to deploy an extra 30,000 troops in Afghanistan to reinforce the already 65,000-strong combined NATO-led and US military presence, which is locked in a fierce battle against a resurgent Taliban insurgency.

For many troops at Camp Phoenix, most of whom are part of the Illinois national guard, the ascent of Obama, the United States' first black president and former senator for Illinois had personal resonance.

The new Commander-in-Chief faces a tough fight in Afghanistan, where the US military death toll for 2008 was at a record high, with 127 Americans killed, compared with a total 169 deaths for foreign forces in 2007, according to Reuters figures.

Furthermore, he will inherit an increasingly tense relationship with his Afghan counterpart, President Hamid Karzai, who repeated earlier on Tuesday his criticism of foreign forces for causing civilian casualties.

Some at Camp Phoenix hoped Obama's focus on Afghanistan and the decision to inject more troops in the southern and eastern provinces, the frontline of the fight against the insurgency would lead to an early return to the United States.

As the ceremony wrapped-up and the telecast came to an end, the troops, some of them tearful, gradually made their way to their digs, mulling the difference Obama may or not make in Afghanistan.

"I think George Bush really tried to help Afghanistan out and he kinds of gives Barack Obama something to start off with. He gave Barack a good stepping stone to start off in improving this country so now Mr Obama is going to have to fill those shoes and will continue to help Afghanistan," said Specialist Justin Ambrose, also from Chicago.

OBAMA-MANIA IN JAPAN, KENYA

In Obama, the Japanese city which shares its name with the new President of the United States, people danced and sang the night away. Hula dancers performed in honour of Barack Obama's Hawaiian heritage.

Kenya - where Obama's father is from - too celebrated the coming of change and hope with the swearing in ceremony and inauguration of President Obama.

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