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. Kalra

    Mr.Prez, one more important and crucial Business point, fight for No Anti Dumping law against Solar Panels which are made in America

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

    If Obama cared about the our soldiers he would have gone to the Arizona VA hospital and others and told them in person how he expects our Vets to be taken care of.what he what he wants those hospital

    May 25, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  3. Mike in Texas

    To ddtgwt,

    Question: When does a Republican stop supporting something?
    Answer: When President Obama does

    Look at the above Q&A before you start calling the President a racist and divisive. Maybe doing a little projecting there?

    May 25, 2014 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  4. Irritated

    This is such a great idea! Post a huge target on Bagram by letting everyone in the world know that the president is there right now, like the solders there don’t have enough problems with it being “fighting season” and the IDF's they get there. So let’s step it up a notch and give the "bad guys" more of a reason to attack! CNN you disgust me, you should have waited till AFTER he left to put this up. But that would make too much since wouldn’t it?

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

    No matter what he does to some it's wrong. The VA has had problems for years and the Bush/Chaney/Rumsfield wars have caused a major overload of the system and yet the Republican's keep voting down any money to help the VA and are the first in line to blame President Obama. To Johan Christensen who is worried about his leather jacket it doesn't come close to Bush flying in to the ship in a flight suit with a sign behind him saying "Mission Accomplished." Now that is sad.............You go President Obama your the best.

    May 25, 2014 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  6. Dallas329

    Never waste a crisis....or a Kodak moment!

    May 25, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  7. Geezer

    What a bunch of nasty unpatriotic losers some of you are. All some of you do is whine and complain about our President. We live in the greatest country in the world. I wish some of you would move to Russia or somewhere just leave our country.

    May 25, 2014 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
  8. Norma

    President...Commander-in-Chief, thank you for visiting your troops...Photo op or NOT, this veteran appreciates all you do....

    May 25, 2014 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  9. sgt trdy

    God bless presidency Obama and the USA

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

    To REASON FOR TRUTH: Yeah you are right, I bet Obama has not had a vacation in like errr, 2 weeks. See the world on taxpayers expense. Did he take family? They could head for Hawaii when they leave.

    May 25, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  11. george t hibbs

    I do not believe some one with a name like Barrack Hussein Obama should be allowed to address our troops in Afghanistan who are their to fight Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents.

    May 25, 2014 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  12. garypsmith321

    Of course the president is some where else, there's a crisis in America. This is what the left admires, avoid conflict at all costs. "Out of sight out of mind." Welcome to nirvana courtesy of the democratic party, veterans, hetros, and believe in a god? " Sorry no use for you".

    May 25, 2014 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  13. trekguyd

    He is like the Clintons, disband the military and get rid of the VA. He does not care for anyone in that has severed this country. It would take all veterans of the US to march on Washington and demand their rights and force this government to pay attention to us. For all of us who have served our country and not the Obama's or the Clinton's who find the VA to be a joke and no money for the people who have given up their life or part of their life of this country.

    May 25, 2014 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  14. Biff McHenderson

    In 2010 Obama skipped Memorial Day services to go on vacation and have a cookout.

    May 25, 2014 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  15. Jack Jackson

    Can someone please tell me who is running this country. This guy cannot do anything but go to Chicago (murder Capital of the World) or California for a fund raiser? There has to be a secret person behind all this who is calling all decisions.

    May 25, 2014 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  16. barryinlasvegas

    Obama – always ready for a photo op and reading a speech from the teleprompter. Not good at being President and governing or getting anything done but not to fret – he can always look concerned, be "madder than hell" and talk the talk. Never walk the walk.

    May 25, 2014 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  17. Larke Marie

    Damage control, he is trying to get the VA scandal out of the front pages, the troops see right thru this!

    May 25, 2014 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  18. Vic

    To Pes and Thomas Harold Richards: "Republicans, before you go bashing Obama for poor VA healthcare, here's a friendly reminder of your blatant refusal to help our vets in any way." * Bills that Republicans have shut down
    Veterans Health Bill, Wounded Veteran Job Security Act, Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization, Requiring List on VA website of Organizations Providing Scholarships for Veterans, Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act of 2009, Veterans Business Center Act, Job Creation Through Entrepreneurship Act. media-cache*
    Even John Boehner has admitted that the government shut down was all the Republicans doing. But then again, facts don't seem to be your strong suit.

    May 25, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  19. sayer

    God bless you, Mr. President.

    May 25, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  20. John

    Now the Repubicans will be saying he is just going to the mosque.

    May 25, 2014 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  21. Henry


    Why does Barak Hussein Obama have to sneak into Afghanistan in the dead of night when he frequently boasts that he has got al Qaeda and the Taliban on the run in that country?

    May 25, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  22. Randy, San Francisco

    A presidential visit to the frontlines to thank our brave soldiers in harms way is an appropriate gesture on Memorial Day weekend.

    May 25, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  23. Rajashekar Naryaana

    Whether President Obama would also a make a surprise Visit to Syria as well considering the traumatic conditions, Would he also announce a new policy to deal with Syrian regime President Assad ?

    May 25, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  24. Bren

    Thank you President Obama. No please, PLEASE, enact tougher gun laws in America.

    May 25, 2014 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  25. Smity

    Didn't Obumbles tell us he ended the war???

    May 25, 2014 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
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