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. Gurgyl

    Stop this VA bs, get over this. It is there for generations, not new.

    May 25, 2014 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  2. Larry

    what a big mistake for Odumbo to say 'Al Qaeda is on its heels. That always backfires

    May 25, 2014 04:18 pm at 4:18 pm |
  3. Fred

    If Al Quaeda is on its heels, it's because they're laughing so hard at Obama, and his fantasy world beliefs. Guaranteed, every one of those military members was "voluntold" to be there.

    May 25, 2014 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  4. pkrbkr

    Thank you, Mr. President.

    May 25, 2014 04:25 pm at 4:25 pm |
  5. Joe

    This would be like ford flying to saigon to visit the troops on memorial ay 1974. Not even sure the black soldiers will be voting for his party next time around. Obama does not understand the nature of an oath because he has never had to live by one.

    May 25, 2014 04:26 pm at 4:26 pm |
  6. dmf

    A call for duty ! That is what presidents do on national Holidays , particularly on days like Memorial , Thanks giving and Christmas eve . Love you Mr. President .

    May 25, 2014 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  7. lex

    And this idiot president didn't even stop to speak to local Afghan politicians? I guess all is lost if it was so unsafe for him to do that.

    May 25, 2014 04:34 pm at 4:34 pm |
  8. Namelinda

    Everyone wants to blame the President for the problems at the VA. The reality is that these problems existed long before he became President. I know because I have friends who relatives died because of bad medical care years before Obama became President. This issue is just a Republican Strategy going into the November elections. Question. Why didn't the Presidents before him fix the problem? Get your heads out of the sand and face reality. President Obama and Michelle have done more for Veterans than many of the former Presidents.

    May 25, 2014 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  9. Canucken

    Well Obama just proved what a socialist/communist/nazi (what else do the right wing nuts call him?) he is by going to Afghanistan to visit the troops on the Memorial Day holiday. A real patriot would have been at Arlington. What a low life huh? Going to Afghanistan, jeez.

    May 25, 2014 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  10. Michigan patriot

    A' Qaeda is on his heels..... Didn't we hear this before? and it was a lie; still is. Trip was just for show, like everything he does.

    May 25, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  11. drcid777

    I'm sure many troops appreciate that Obama has been pulling soldiers out of the Middle East instead of sending more there.

    May 25, 2014 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  12. DC Johnny

    "This is 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."

    I'm sure it's just a crazy coincidence that the last time he went and visited our combat troops was... yep... May of an election year.

    Lots of coincidences with this administration. Lots and lots.

    May 25, 2014 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  13. SM

    President Obama needs to make surprise visits at hospitals and medical centers of the Veterans Administration around the country. Honor, respect and praise is shown the troops while serving and the exact opposite is given them when they lay down their weapons. These women and men should live like the kings and queens they are for putting themselves in harms way for civilian slobs like me. Perhaps if they were treated respectfully and provided a post-service life for themselves and their families, this would attract even more of our best and brightest among us to serve our country. Thank you troops serving now and thank you to all of you who served in the past. Daughter of a Naval Airforce Serviceman who is now deceased, Susan.

    May 25, 2014 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  14. shame

    What are they still doing in Afghanistan? We've lose more soldiers in Obama's first 4 years, and counting, than in 7 under Bush. Now the media just doesn't do a daily body count like they used to. Our troops are leaderless. Going for a selfish photo op and publicity is all Obama knows. It's pathetic. He always makes everything about himself.

    May 25, 2014 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  15. matthewjtanner

    Joe, Every heard of the Presidential Oath of Office?

    May 25, 2014 04:51 pm at 4:51 pm |
  16. Anthony

    When Obama really wants to cover up something, Republicans would have no clue.

    May 25, 2014 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  17. edlf2014

    Good move. This ought to at least temporarily remove him from speculation about his involvement with the VA hospital fiasco. When he returns home maybe this will become a nothing like Fast & Furious, IRS, NSA, Benghazi, and a few other nothings.

    May 25, 2014 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  18. Lizzie

    Gurgyl, but President Obama just heard it on CNN

    May 25, 2014 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  19. liberal disease

    he didn't even know he went he heard about it on the news

    May 25, 2014 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  20. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    OOOOH, I see the same negative Obama talking points here. Roger Ailes must be throwing a few nickels around to his Fox puppets so they can buy cigarettes and beer.

    May 25, 2014 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  21. tony

    yes the president said al qeada is on its heels, they are on the run. they are running from their hiding, running everywhere in the world and killing us

    May 25, 2014 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  22. Marc

    First of all to NameLinda: He has not done jack squat for Veterans. He in fact authorized a bill that reduced the VA Budget. Yes the VA has been plagued with problems for well over 20 years. No it is not fault of the President. It is the Fault of the VA, and Congress for letting it get as bad as it is.

    However instead of going to Arlington, or Going to Normandy to see the 100,000 US Graves. Memorial day is about remembering our Vets the people that gave their lives to give us and the world its freedoms. This idiot goes to Afghanistan to visit the troops, and said the same thing he said over 4 years ago. The terrorists are on their heels. Who is he kidding. They still make attacks, they still make their propaganda, and other countries that we send hundreds of millions of dollars to in aide hide these terrorists from us safely in their bases. It was proven that Pakistan had hidden Bin Laden from us for over a year. Why are we giving them over 500 million a year in aide? If they hide our enemies from us they are our enemies and should get nothing but a great big middle finger.

    May 25, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  23. tony

    everything happen under his watch are his responsibles period.

    May 25, 2014 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  24. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    'i' am Commander in Chief
    "I" will fight for you
    "I" have your back

    "I" have "My" priorities

    OBAMA CARE navigators at Planned Parenthood
    MUST be paid first.

    Death benefit to the widow and children of
    a United States Marine killed in action in Afghanistan
    well Dude... "that"... can wait.

    May 25, 2014 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  25. Lizzie

    Name SK. SFL.........President Bush administration already started the withdrawal from Iraq, and we are STILL in Afghanistan, and those drones you are so proud off, kill civilians just like the Taliban, but you will never hear about that, because everyone in the vicinity is called a TALLIBAN, does not matter women, children, old people.

    May 25, 2014 05:20 pm at 5:20 pm |
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