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. McBob79

    On its heals? The experts in his administration tell another story, but why bother with the facts.

    May 25, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  2. nintex

    How can the tea party people be so incredibly hateful to our President for doing something like visiting the troops in Afghanistan? I shake my head in disbelief and sadness at reading some of the hateful comments here. If they would just give him credit for doing something right once in awhile they would be a lot more believable themselves. The absolute untruths – OK, lies – they repeat over and over are just beyond my understanding. No matter what President Obama does, count on the right wing people to turn it into something negative. I'm just sick at heart that the country has come to this level of hate for our elected President.

    May 25, 2014 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  3. reply

    To note, Obama-your-mama said: "Al Qaeda is on its heels in this part of the world, and that's because of you." Certain conflicts with previous statements that Al Qaeda is gone world-wide.

    May 25, 2014 10:27 pm at 10:27 pm |
  4. joe

    Veterans that are in severe need are still waiting for the approval of medical cannabis.....

    May 25, 2014 10:38 pm at 10:38 pm |
  5. dylan

    No matter what the President does, the right wingers will say it is wrong. Extremes on both sides of the isle are extremely sad.

    May 25, 2014 10:41 pm at 10:41 pm |
  6. geno marcello

    I always thought Presidents were supposed to inspire troops. Tell Barack Obama to stay out of Afghanistan and the other trouble spots. His ugly face with the phony smile would be enough to demoralize anybody.

    May 25, 2014 10:43 pm at 10:43 pm |
  7. geno marcello

    Presidents are supposed to inspire, not demoralize, the troops. Tell him to send Paris Hilton and stay out of Afghanistan and the other world trouble spots.

    May 25, 2014 10:45 pm at 10:45 pm |
  8. IpseCogita

    Al-Qaeda is on it's heels? They run much of Iraq, much of sub-Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa, and have a strong and growing presence in every Arab country, and are very close to running Syria. We are even (indirectly and unintentially) arming them in Syria. Afghanistan is irrelevant to Al Qaeda and has been for quite a while.

    May 25, 2014 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    He is so loved and the people are so happy that Barack Obama and America has saved them that he has to make a surprise trip so no one knows and would not kill him for his great insight and leadership. I'm surprised, most victors would have rode in on a chariot but, I'm guessing there was no parade waiting for you.

    May 25, 2014 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  10. EVE Portraits

    And of course CNN, the biased propaganda tool that it is, conveniently does not mention that Wikileaks just revealed that the US government (read NSA) is mass spying on every single phone call in and out of Afghanistan. The REAL reason why Obama visited Afghanistan is to try to get Karzai to go along with this disgusting illegal mass spying on a sovereign nation, not the CYNICAL lying BS the White House spews about visiting troops for Memorial Day. Do you really think they care about the troops? They are considered by these disgusting elites as nothing but cannon fodder to protect their precious oil pipelines. Don't believe the lies and propaganda! WAKE UP AND OPEN YOUR EYES AMERICA!

    May 25, 2014 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  11. nuclear mike

    When you have dead vets at home that you let die in the VA Hospitals you run off to Afghanistan to glad hand those you are about to neglect at home...

    May 25, 2014 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  12. matthew

    He is so loved and the people are so happy that Barack Obama and America has saved them that he has to make a surprise trip so no one knows and would not kill him for his great insight and leadership. I'm surprised, most victors would have rode in on a chariot but, I'm guessing there was no parade waiting for you

    May 25, 2014 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  13. The president has NO idea

    Just a photo OP. Nothing to see here...Notice all the people behind him? Blacks, women, Latinos...
    Did he tell them there's no VA benefits left...or they will wait to die for simple care.
    What a great leader we have... his leaving office won't happen soon enough. This man is destroying our county, spirit & each other.

    May 25, 2014 11:10 pm at 11:10 pm |
  14. PA Citizen

    First & Foremost, Thank You & God Bless Our Troops, Our Veterans, & Our Country.

    OMG Is There Anything This President Can Do Without Drawing Wrath, Anger, Scorn, & Disdain, Skepticism? I Mean, I Understand The World Today, I Get The Scrutiny & The Cyncism That Goes With Being President In This Day & Age, But Damn!!! I Have Never Seen/Heard Of A President Just Pummeled & Bludgeoned On A Daily Basis No Matter What He Does!!! Now Don't Get Me Wrong, Obama Is Light Years From Perfect Or Ideal (Like All Presidents Before Him) & I Disagree With Many Of His Policies Overall, But He Makes His 4th Trip To Afghanistan To Personally Thank The Troops, & People Are Still Ripping Him To Shreds: He Shoulda Met With The Afghan Politicians, He Should Be Visiting VA Hospitals, He Should Do This, He Could Do That, It Was Just A Photo Op, It Was A Communist Move.....Give It A Rest On Memorial Day Please.

    May 25, 2014 11:22 pm at 11:22 pm |
  15. Infinitus Max

    This might be their last tour in Afghanistan, but there's always another muddled mess somewhere. Do you like African or Thai food?

    May 25, 2014 11:24 pm at 11:24 pm |
  16. Jim Rome

    DC Johnny, please focus on the main point. President Obama has ended the wars and started no new ones, despite the Republicans like John McCain calling continuously for more war. The military industrial complex and its complete destruction of our economy's balance sheet, and President Obama's turning it around should be your focus, not on whether or not the President's visit fits your election watchdog timetable.

    May 25, 2014 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  17. TheSadTruth

    Pathetic how GOP bobbleheads need to slam our president, who unlike his predecessor has NOT sent U.S. troops to die in a contrived war for profit.

    Obama has spent 6 years cleaning up after the Bush/Cheney bloodbath which cost the lives of 5,000 American soldiers. Still the mindless Republitards give hillbilly Bush a pass and hold Obama accountable for another man's sins.

    May 25, 2014 11:31 pm at 11:31 pm |
  18. Obama lovers Stop! We are loosing Heros

    Your ignorant and or stupid if you think this administration cares about Vets or fixing things at home. This is the worst Vets have been treated in 40 years- he's had 6 years to FIX any problems from the past! Pull your heads out of the sand...
    Son of a Marine Major & many in my family who served!

    May 25, 2014 11:35 pm at 11:35 pm |
  19. Publicity Stunt

    Given that Obama never showed up as a Senator at the Veterans Affairs committee, claimed he would be there every minute for the 'next 4 years' as a Presidential candidate, and as President, hasn't met with Shinseki for the last two years...this is all a publicity stunt to change the topic from his current disaster, the VA. As Gates said in his book, Obama doesn't believe in AFG, and certainly didn't have a partner in Karzai...he just kept troops there, getting killed, because he already retreated in Iraq, after all that blood and treasure was spent. Obama is a failure as a leader, as a manager, on foreign policy, as a commander-in-chief, on the economy, and the ACA is a disaster. All he does well is lie, cover-up scandals, read other-people's words on a teleprompter, and be an actor for photo Ops. Worst president in American history. We can't wait until he is gone.

    May 25, 2014 11:38 pm at 11:38 pm |
  20. Lol

    Weird how he didn't visit Benghazi or any troops during non election years. By the way, "giving the troops a surprise"

    how about bringing them home? you think they care about some political backstabbing figurehead who broke all his promises?

    May 25, 2014 11:57 pm at 11:57 pm |
  21. ralph

    Ask the president about the new rules on solders, If they see someone setting up a rocket launcher they can not engage, the only time they can be engage the enemy is after they fire the rockets at our solders. Thanks President Obama for looking after our troops.

    May 26, 2014 12:08 am at 12:08 am |
  22. Loggan

    President Obama is blamed for every little thing. That is bs. He is trying to do things for this country more so than many other presidents have done in my opinion. When I hear facts spewn out by the Obama haters I'd really like to know where they get Their information. Afghanistan is another Vietnam. We should have been out a decade ago. You armchair quarterbacks and republican bloggers can say all the crap you want about the President but he had made many changes I feel, for the better. History will tell the story long after we are all gone. Presidents do a lot of stuff for publicity. All presidents make surprise visits to overseas bases and warzones. They are politicians. If you don't understand what that is about then what are you blogging for anyway?

    May 26, 2014 01:01 am at 1:01 am |
  23. Quixote

    If bush and the republicon establishment had kept the focus on the war against al qaeda instead of using the tragedy of 9/11 as pretext for their illegal war in Iraq, this war would have ended on 2004. And our VA hospitals would not be flooded with the 35,000 wounded in Iraq and near equal number from Afghanistan.
    God be with our brave men and women this memorial day.

    May 26, 2014 01:08 am at 1:08 am |
  24. Frank

    Wow... Thought this only happen in West Africa. #President Bashing
    We are not North Koreans.

    May 26, 2014 01:51 am at 1:51 am |
  25. Draiko

    I'm working in Afghanistan and can tell you that afghans considering that visit as shame. How it was possible to go to the sovereign" country without informing government. President Karzai rejected invitation to meet Obama showing that there is no any respect to Obama. People here started hate american presents. In general during these 13 years of presence nothing was done. Actually even many things are becoming worse

    May 26, 2014 05:21 am at 5:21 am |
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