May 25th, 2014
12:05 PM ET
4 months ago

Obama thanks troops in Afghanistan, says 'Al Qaeda is on its heels … because of you'

Updated 10:24 p.m. ET, 5/25/2014

(CNN) - President Barack Obama spent just over four hours in Afghanistan Sunday on an unannounced trip to visit with U.S. forces during the Memorial Day weekend. He thanked the troops for their service as the United States hands over responsibility to Afghan forces.

"Al Qaeda is on its heels in this part of the world, and that's because of you," Obama said.

He quickly added, "Everyone knows Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place."

The United States has been fighting in Afghanistan for more than 12 years, which is the U.S.'s longest war. "Last year marked a major milestone," the President said, as Afghan forces took increased responsibility for securing the country.

"For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan," Obama said to applause.

"And by the end of this year, the transition will be complete, and Afghans will take full responsibility for their security, and our combat mission will be over. America's war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end."

This was his fourth trip to the country, with his last being on May 1, 2012, when he made an address to Americans about U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

Country music star Brad Paisley traveled aboard Air Force One with the President this weekend. He performed for some of the 32,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan at a major rally.

After the event, Obama went to a hospital to visit troops.

Air Force One left for Afghanistan late Saturday night and arrived at Bagram Airfield on Sunday morning Eastern time.

Also traveling with Obama was national security adviser Susan Rice and adviser John Podesta, whose son is currently serving in Afghanistan. Others aboard Air Force One included senior aide Dan Pfeiffer and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

Obama’s trip comes as his administration is facing criticism over how the Veterans Administration has handled prolonged wait times and other health care issues for veterans.

Speaking to reporters en route to Bagram, Rhodes said the VA scandal was not “a factor in the planning of this trip,” but said Obama would talk to veterans about support that troops and vets will have once they return home.

While Obama didn't address the scandal, he did praise veterans, promising to help members of the U.S. military transition into civilian life.

If you want to get something done, "hire a vet," he said, reiterating that taking care of U.S. veterans is Americans’ “sacred obligation.”

Obama did not meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai or with Abdullah Abdullah or Ashraf Ghani, who are campaigning for a June 14 runoff election to succeed Karzai. Rhodes said Obama “didn’t want to get in the middle of election season.”

President Obama did, however, call President Karzai while at Bagram to praise him for the progress made by Afghan security forces and for the successful conduction of the country’s first-round elections. He also expressed support for recent reconciliation efforts with the Taliban.

The Obama administration is also still deciding whether any U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014.

Obama plans to address foreign policy later this week in a speech at West Point, where he's set to lay out his vision for how the U.S. should apply force around the world.

CNN's Jim Acosta, Ashley Killough and Dana Davidsen contributed to this report.


Filed under: Afghanistan • President Obama
soundoff (295 Responses)
  1. @RI_Roger

    When was this trip put together... before the VA scandal or after.... can't wonder that handlers see poll numbers falling in the 30's and need to do something quick. An experienced administration would have called for resignations or began firing those accountable, a campaign focused administration takes a trip to oversees rather than go golfing to show the President cares.... too little, too late.

    May 26, 2014 06:13 am at 6:13 am |
  2. Gurgyl

    Ria, the man that has no shame, no respect is, Bush jr, then Reagan. First on WMD–war loot, next Trickle-down–that gave billions of dollars to corporate Tax-shelters to ship jobs to China, India, passed no laws on Healthcare knowing the loots like BCBS, doctors on Medicare, hospitals on multiple tests that are not needed. Know this truth.

    May 26, 2014 06:55 am at 6:55 am |
  3. WOW

    When all else fails...ROAD TRIP!!!!!!!!! I bet the vets standing there would have rather had Obama WORKING on fixing the VA scandal and not flying halfway around the world and giving another speech...I know I would!!

    May 26, 2014 07:42 am at 7:42 am |
  4. Harry Legg

    Our President is a fraud and a liar PERIOD

    May 26, 2014 07:48 am at 7:48 am |
  5. Bush

    @Canucken....
    President Obama not only made a surprise visit to Afghanistan, he also laid a wreath at the 'Tomb of the Unknown' is the President now a patriot to you!

    May 26, 2014 08:15 am at 8:15 am |
  6. Vaq

    He added over 60k troops to Afghanistan.... Removed 33k and boasted of getting troops out ... Why isn't the liberal media holding his feet to the fire like bush was

    May 26, 2014 08:20 am at 8:20 am |
  7. Afghanistan Airmen

    Regardless of these comments, Obama is amazing for doing this. It was a pleasure meeting you

    May 26, 2014 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  8. A Kickin Donkey

    " We've lost more people under Obama than Bush " some fact challenged Anti-Obamite spewed above. For Democrats, Independents, and the moderate & THINKING Republicans l, can we all agree that people like this and the people they vote for have no place in a responsible and ADULT government? Please vote for centrist Democrats in 2014 & 2016. Then, if the Democrats don't address Immigration, Minimum Wage, Don't CONTINUE to DROP the Nation's DEFICIT & UNEMPLOYMENT, focus at home instead of abroad, AND FINALLY, TRULY keep us SAFE (as Obama has done but #43 did not . . . 9/11 occured on GWBs and Cheney's watch)

    Then, if they fail at ANY one of those, FIRE THE DEMOCRATS. Hand the car keys back to the Republicans but buckle up because it is sure to be (history proves it) a bumpy ride.

    May 26, 2014 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  9. MarvMit

    You people are ridiculous and still bitter that a black man is in office. This was a President thanking troops and you find something wrong with that. Just face your deep down prejudice and pray for YOUR president. :)

    May 26, 2014 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  10. ron cee

    "While Obama didn't address the scandal, he did praise veterans, promising to help members of the U.S. military transition into civilian life."

    What a flip-flop from 2009 when he proposed veterans buy their own insurance to treat their war wounds. I guess you might say he "evolved".

    May 26, 2014 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  11. Freedom Storm

    Every other day of the year he acts against the best interests of our blood treasures, but his worthless words are all that are covered by the MSM, Obama's very own propaganda machine.

    May 26, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  12. Lizzie

    Barbara Billingsly, except Pres.Bush did NOT put up the sign, the Sailors did, but to you it does not matter, Pres.Obama is your savior, can walk on water, everything will be free from now on, no more worries, no more stress, everyone will sing kumba ya.

    May 26, 2014 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  13. Chris Garibay

    Absolutely amazing. The same president that authorized the troop surge in 2009 thanking them for their service. Meanwhile his administration has assisted or stood inept as their benefits are cut, ranks reduced, pay stagnated. Or and if you expect medical coverage, just go to the butcher shop. You'll experience the same result. And people thought Mitt Romney was bad when he cut jobs to a few hundred people. This president has cut entire segments of our economy.

    May 26, 2014 09:51 am at 9:51 am |
  14. Lisa

    Thanks for your service, and when you get home, you will find, I have cut your pay, cut your benefits, and basically destroyed everything you were fighting for, but thanks and yeah, my poll numbers were down, so I had to do something. Road Trip... can we stop and play golf?

    May 26, 2014 10:17 am at 10:17 am |
  15. Usaman

    The incompetent boob just outed the chief CIA officer in Afghanistan according to usa today. Well done liar in chief can't even visit the troops competently ...

    May 26, 2014 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  16. Pope Algore

    Every time you think Obama and the Democrats have proven how inconceivably incompetent they are, Obama always ups the ante and surprises you with something like leaking the name of the top spy in Afghanistan to the entire world!

    Letting Democrats anywhere near national defense is liking letting toddlers play with matches and gun powder...

    May 26, 2014 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  17. KEVIN

    Who's handling the wreath ceremony at the Unknown Soldier today? Kerry? A purple heart rejector?

    May 26, 2014 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  18. billbl

    President Obama is taken a better approach and one that has kept our ground forces out of any new combats and reduced forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US can go longer be the police of the world. For Syria, he resisted the war mongers and the military/industrial complex and the lobbyists to get too involved. And then we find that the rebels include Al Qaeda. The troubles in those regions are the result of long lived culture hatreds which we better understand after the terrible decision to invade Iraq. This is the way to respect our military and, that is, to not put them into dangerous situations unless absolutely necessary.
    Watching the severely wounded vets in Memorial Day services makes me angry at why and who put them there.

    May 26, 2014 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  19. billbl

    President Obama is taken a much better approach and one that has kept our ground forces out of any new combats and reduced forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US can go longer be the police of the world. For Syria, he resisted the war mongers and the military/industrial complex and the lobbyists to get too involved. And then we find that the rebels include Al Qaeda. The troubles in those regions are the result of long lived culture hatreds which we better understand after the terrible decision to invade Iraq. This is the way to respect our military and, that is, to not put them into dangerous situations unless absolutely necessary.
    Watching the severely wounded vets in Memorial Day services makes me angry at why and who put them there.

    May 26, 2014 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  20. DaveNYUSA

    Odd, is it not, that CNN seems to have forgotten to include the OTHER OBAMA SURPRISE, outing the CIA chief?!

    May 26, 2014 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
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