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. reconmarine

    It was a good idea for him NOT to visit any VA Hospitals this weekend.

    May 25, 2014 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  2. Brian

    Yeah they're on the heels – occupying more territory now than ever. Sad that this is out leader and has no clue what is really going on.

    May 25, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  3. Julian Assange

    10+ years on and the American president still have to HIDE from ugly looking bearded men wherever he goes on conquered land...
    American INCOMPETENCE at its BEST!

    May 25, 2014 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  4. jimmie

    What could he possibly do here except waste a few hundred thousand of American taxpayer's money.

    May 25, 2014 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  5. Beth

    Took him long enough. Sad to say this is just another excuse to get out of DC over his latest drama.

    May 25, 2014 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  6. Tea Party Guy

    I have to admit. No one forced Obama to visit. I am stunned, but I appreciate that he took the time to do this. In fact, when I look over his policies of action, he seems to be more tea party than Dem. I don't get it. We build him up to be this huge socialist type of guy and he acts more like a tea party man than any Republicans we have in office. Very strange. Oh well, life is strange and will continue to get stranger by the minute. I'm gone.

    May 25, 2014 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  7. BUD

    We need to support our commander and chief along with our troops.
    Or go to a different country to live.
    Lead follow or move somewhere else.

    May 25, 2014 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  8. Guest

    Why has it been two years since he visited the soldiers fighting this war?

    May 25, 2014 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  9. Gurgyl

    Entire this War is so idiotic. Focus at home. Restrict illegal immigrants, oil prices, infrastructure, manufacturing, bring all call center jobs, make dollar stronger, watch India, China too.

    May 25, 2014 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  10. Anne Mente

    Hmmm... Did President Obama really call it a "scared obligation"? Fact check may be needed here.

    May 25, 2014 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  11. aurelius

    That veterans who got wounded in combat get health benefits while they serve and after they have served is perfectly normal. That all members of the Armed Services and their dependents receive health benefits during and after their services in the Armed Forces smack of pure socialism. While the Republicans decry socialism and the lack of support given those Vets, they also oppose any measure that would give everyone of us, through Obamacare, the same rights to health care. It's absolute hypocrisy and totally wrong.

    May 25, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  12. familydoc2

    @Johan Christensen-As if GWB cared a rodent's rear exit about the military. Sends troops to Afghanistan in 2001 (our longest war ever), ostensibly to find bin Laden. We had him cornered at Tora Bora but W denies the on-site commander's emergency request for more American troops, so the locals manage to let bin Laden get away most likely for a big payday from OBL. Sends troops to Iraq for no good reason, since Saddam had nothing to do with OBL. Almost immediately after the fall of Baghdad he declares "Mission Accomplished!", flies onto the Abraham Lincoln as it does circles during his photo op, which keeps those aboard from seeing their families for at least half a day or more. That war drags on for another seven years, since he, Cheney and Rumsfeld ignored the Army Chief of Staff's recommendation of 200-300 thousand troops to control Iraq. He wanted to do it on the cheap with not enough troops or equipment, trying to keep the costs down so he could still provide the rich with a tax cut. Ends up costing far more in casualties and money than if he had followed his military expert's advice originally. Obama got OBL, ended Iraq, and is ending Afghanistan, and hasn't put more of our military in harm's way in Libya, Syria or elsewhere. It is plain to see which commander-in-chief cares more about the military.

    May 25, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  13. rs

    Johan Christensen
    As if he cares about the military lol. Nice leather jacket wearing photo opp and then back home.
    Two words for your post: "Mission Accomplished". Gee, remember the G.I.Joe Bush heroically landing dangerously on an aircraft carrier in San Diego? That after sending our troops into harm's way without enough body armor, or vehicles that could withstand IEDs. Then, he and his team cut pay, and retirement for veterans, and tied to kill the G.I. Bill.
    How about inserting our military into his made-up war in Iraq? The GOP doesn't care about the military- only fools believe that.

    May 25, 2014 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  14. rs

    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.
    Hey, Tom, check your facts- the GOP owns the shutdown- it was their anti-ACA coup d'etat- that's what closed the Mall (I guess the GOP feels the NPS isn't essential)- Thank the anti-American terrorist Mr. Cruz, and the TEA Party idiots in Congress.

    May 25, 2014 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  15. TomE

    Obviously campaigning for his third term!!

    May 25, 2014 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  16. ted

    Obama is the best. He has brought the irresponsible Republican wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to responsible ends. Let's spend the money now on the USA. And as far as the VA issues, Sen McCain had an op-ed in the Wall St Journal yesterday, but said nothing about what HE has done to fix the issues, only what he wants to do. The VA issues have been around for years under both Dem and Repub administrations, but nothing constructive has ever been done. It is a bureacracy of the finest in the federal govt.

    May 25, 2014 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  17. southernwonder

    mr. karzai is off to the inauguration of india's new pm modi/
    this is a perfect opportunity for pres obama to visit new delhi for the inauguration as well, and mend our broken ties with india whom the state dept has pod totally over the years.

    May 25, 2014 03:49 pm at 3:49 pm |
  18. Anthony

    Republicans, please note that Obama said Al Qaeda is on its heels, not eliminated. There was no need for a coverup on Benghazi, because Obama never said that Al Qaeda was eliminated. In fact, in Obama's 60 Minutes interview on September 12, the day after the attack, Obama said that the Benghazi attack was not like what happened in Egypt (protest against the video). Obama thought that the Benghazi attack was by people "who were looking to target Americans from the start." The following was from the interview:

    "Kroft: It’s been described as a mob action. But there are reports that they were very heavily armed with grenades. That doesn’t sound like your normal demonstration.

    Obama: As I said, we’re still investigating exactly what happened. I don’t want to jump the gun on this. But you’re right that this is not a situation that was exactly the same as what happened in Egypt. And my suspicion is, is that there are folks involved in this, who were looking to target Americans from the start."

    Contrary to Republican belief, Obama thought that the attack was not like the Egyptian protest over the video, and it was planned by people "who were looking to target Americans from the start." In other words, if Republicans think that the Select Committee is going to find evidence of a Benghazi coverup, they are sadly mistaken.

    May 25, 2014 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  19. willhaas

    Our President just loves to travel at the tax payer's expense and add CO2 to the atmosphere. To abide by the President's economic plan all the troops all over the world have to be back home and out of the service by the end of the 2014 fiscal year. Half of the savings are suppose to be enough for the federal government to start posting surpluses starting in 2015 so there must be a lot of savings. The other half is suppose to be spent on infrastructure. We are still waiting for the budget cuts that are suppose to go along with the tax hike on the rich and the ACA taxes. The President has yet to supply the financial details of his plan. The big question is what additional tax hikes and budget reductions will be required.

    May 25, 2014 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  20. Frank

    Al Quaeda is on it's heels because of the US soldier's presence, but then all they have to do is go where there are no soldiers so they can cause trouble.

    May 25, 2014 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  21. McBob79

    Yes, a nice getaway to avoid scandals in his administration. Incompetent is the best way to describe him.

    May 25, 2014 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  22. VettesRule TheRoads

    EVEN the soldiers behind him... can't even stand to be there with him,... such a hypocrite!

    May 25, 2014 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  23. essie

    AWESOME!!! – Love you, Mr. President! I'm sure that made the troops happy! 💜

    May 25, 2014 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  24. Johnny57

    That is a very sincere gesture, Mr. President. We salute you!

    May 25, 2014 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  25. BestPresidentEver

    This is a responsible, mature- minded president!! – I'm glad he went and showed them that he love our men & women that's still in combat! Please continue to be the best, President Obama!

    May 25, 2014 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
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