May 25th, 2014
12:05 PM ET
6 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. John

    I wonder if he'll stay at the 35 million dollar empty facility he insisted on building which no one plans to use all on the US tax payer's dime

    May 25, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  2. YerMom

    @Jeff Brown Are you left wing psychos going to praise this decade+ war on nothing?

    May 25, 2014 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  3. Diana

    VA been doing Vets wrong for years. This is nothing new.

    May 25, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  4. Just

    Who forced him into doing that?

    May 25, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  5. Reason For Truth

    Some simpleton named Jeff Brown suggested right wing "nuts" will call this a vacation. The reality is, in the opinion of people of BOTH "wings", is that this is what you call Damage Control.

    May 25, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  6. Johan Christensen

    As if he cares about the military lol. Nice leather jacket wearing photo opp and then back home.

    May 25, 2014 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  7. jefflazrn

    Love you President Obama. You are the best.

    May 25, 2014 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  8. sad leadership

    pathetic.. fly over there and pander . ..
    get your ABC, CBS news story focused on your visit. .. be high-lighted as a hero in LA times and NY York times..
    oh look everybody... im your president .. I care... about getting democrats elected based on hateful partisan rhetoric.

    May 25, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  9. Jack Jackson

    Here is a list of accomplishments for this dud since he has been in office:
    1
    2
    3
    3
    4
    5
    6
    7
    Did you get them??

    May 25, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  10. M. Edward

    I understand that this may come as a surprise however, how about just saying to all the men and women who are and have served, and for all who are in harms way, G-d be with you!

    May 25, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  11. the dude

    Which side is he visiting? Obama has more courage that I thought for showing his face anywhere near soldiers in Afghanistan.

    May 25, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  12. VEW2012

    Watch the right wing nuts whine that he didn't go to Arlington, and instead showed his respect for our service members in person. For all you whiners: the president is hired to travel to visit our troops, to meet other heads of state. That is why he was provided round the clock security details, planes, buses, helicopters, and the use of navy ships.

    May 25, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  13. Kalra

    Mr.Prez it would be wonderful if you can make it up to N.Delhi and not only patch up with newly elected PM Narendra Modi for personal Invitation but as well meet Saarc leaders in one place which will help you to determine many Asian Policies for future.

    May 25, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  14. neb overlord of the forest

    things not going so well back home.... go to afghanistan

    May 25, 2014 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  15. Guest

    I hope they keep him.

    May 25, 2014 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  16. Captain Tom

    This veteran know the truth because he doesn't watch fox news!

    May 25, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  17. Anonymous

    @ddtgwt,

    Please do tell us why President Obama is the most racist, divisive, incompetent President in our history. Typical of people like you spout things but can't back them up with any facts.

    Let me guess. Obama is racist because many American's weren't ready for a Black President. It's his fault because of that.

    He is divisive because many American's can't accept him as President and can't be even agree with him on one thing. At least in public. Even when he supports something they agree with, they say no we don't support that. I am referring more to Congress. Why does the Senate minority leader from the get go say his number one job is to make the President a one term President. They were plotting this from day he was elected.

    Question: When does a Republican not like an idea they used to like?
    Answer: When President Obama supports it.

    So ddtgwt. Ask yourself why is that before you spout off nonsense

    May 25, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  18. Biff McHenderson

    Worst president in history.

    May 25, 2014 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  19. Nolegirl

    Thank you Mr. President for reaching out to our soldiers!

    May 25, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  20. Democratic Titanic

    I'm not saying the obvious – but has he bought a house in Kandahar?

    May 25, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  21. Jack Jackson

    Can I keep my policy if I really like it?

    May 25, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  22. VEW2012

    @Johan Christensen. I'm sure he wouldn't put on a leather jacket, stand on the deck of a navy ship and shout "Mission Accomplished" before Osama bin Laden was taken out...like his predecessor.

    Good for the president visiting our troops.

    May 25, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  23. Mike in Texas

    @ Johan

    he cares about them a lot more than his predecessor. Sending people off to fight your personal wars isn't supporting the military. People like Bush, Cheney, McCain and Graham are war hawks who wouldn't blink twice about military conflict. So spare us your feigned outrage.

    May 25, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  24. Rip

    I wonder how many top aids to George W. Bush actually had a child in a hostile enviornment, as Advisor John Podesta has? Answer? Probably none. They were great at sending the sons and daughters of others to do their bidding, but most of the top Bush people found ways to avoid real service when they could have fought for their nation.

    May 25, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  25. Michael

    Wow... Thought this only happen in West Africa. #President Bashing

    May 25, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
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