May 25th, 2014
12:05 PM ET
9 years 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.

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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. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    Are the right wing nuts going to call this a vacation too?

    May 25, 2014 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  2. granola girl

    Gee, I wonder if this will give a little bump up to his approval rating.

    May 25, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  3. aolllllll

    he's so awesome!

    May 25, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  4. scott

    good for him, but he really should of visited the VA......................

    May 25, 2014 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  5. 1776usa2016

    Good job, Prez.


    May 25, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  6. Marianne

    You just announced an unannounced trip, so now it's announced ha ha.

    May 25, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  7. pes

    To Jeff Brown in Jersey – No Jeff, not a vacation, it's called running away from his VA problem and trying for damage control. If he didn't have such a problem with the VA, I bet he'd only have driven to Arlington and back.

    May 25, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  8. Thomas Harold Richards

    Got to do what you can after the VA wait/death list debacle.
    Obama has always hated our troops and vets. Example: Obama 2013 government shutdown. Allows illegal immigrants to protest US law in the National Mall but has Vets forced away from war memorials.
    Don't fall for this false "I care" trip.

    May 25, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  9. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    @granola girl
    Gee, I wonder if this will give a little bump up to his approval rating.

    Gee, it doesn't matter. He isn't eligible to run again. And if he could run, he would beat any Republican nitwit out there.

    May 25, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  10. elo

    Well you just announced it. Maybe you should have waited till he gets back safley

    May 25, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  11. Alan

    The troops are supposed to be honored this weekend, not punished. Sorry guys, just stand at attention and clap when prompted – it will be over soon.

    May 25, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  12. Ddtgwt

    Jeff only in you dreams, Obama will go down in history as the most racist, divisive and incompetent president ever.

    May 25, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  13. DH

    Maybe if the Repubs did not veto VA recent budgets or the agent orange folks Pres Obama approved for care that Reagan vetoed this mess might have been less stress on an already stressed agency.

    May 25, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  14. Name JK. SFL. THE GOP HOWDEE GOWDEE SHOW with special guest ISSA the CLOWN

    The GOP CLOWNS will probably criticize him for that, of coarse the GOP is to CHICKEN to go their LIKE BENGAZI and do your JOKE investagation over there GOP MORONS.

    May 25, 2014 12:39 pm at 12:39 pm |
  15. Justisnomore

    Horrible event just happened in your own country and you travel,nice.....
    Everything is messed up in your own country,what's your business in Afghanistan?

    The fathers of America thank you Mr.Obama...sweep sweep sweep
    problems sweep'd under the rug,again.

    May 25, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  16. DH

    Mr Richards, repeating liars makes you look as foolish.

    May 25, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  17. Rick McDaniel

    That appears to have just been one of his Memorial Day photo ops.

    May 25, 2014 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  18. TM

    The VA has been screwed up for years, too many veterans, too few hospitals.

    May 25, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  19. Anonymous

    I'm surprised he didn't bring Tiger with. Here's to another $20,000,000 trip added to your $10,000,000,000,000 trillion dollar deficit.

    May 25, 2014 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  20. Mike

    Why not visit ANY VA hospital in America? Or is he still waiting for his appointment?

    May 25, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  21. Jaws3119

    Oh boy! I bet the troops are going to be happy, NOT! Maybe he's going to tell the troops why the VA is so screwed up. Of course it's not his fault, since he did not know. Wow, the only president who doesn't know anything about everything.

    May 25, 2014 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  22. Notarichboy

    Photo op time after the Va scandal!

    May 25, 2014 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  23. Koolaid

    Makes no sense for the most powerful person on the globe to fearfully 'slip' into the poorest country in the world.

    May 25, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  24. ouchhhh

    I'm surprised he didn't bring Tiger. Here's to another $20,000,000 trip added to your $10,000,000,000,000 trillion dollar deficit. Keep up the good work.

    May 25, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  25. Ej

    Waste of tax payers money,what's the cost on security detail alone ?

    May 25, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
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