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. jasonhunt007

    Thank you, Mr. President!

    May 25, 2014 06:46 pm at 6:46 pm |
  2. Tony Dow

    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.

    Wow, you followed Roger Ailes scripted talking points so well! How much did you get? 5 bucks?

    May 25, 2014 06:49 pm at 6:49 pm |
  3. Barbara Billingsly

    Going for a selfish photo op and publicity is all Obama knows. It's pathetic. He always makes everything about himself.

    Remember the moron who pranced around a flight deck with a sign "Mission Accomplished"? It took Obama to get us out of the rat hole that your boy lied us into. YOU ARE PATHETIC!

    May 25, 2014 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  4. mindstorms1

    Personally, I hope there isn't a treaty signed to extend even a limited number of our troops in Afghanistan. If the Afghans themselves after all these years and all the money we have invested can't defend themselves they never will. Leaving a small contingent of troops merely makes them a target without really accomplishing much if anything at all.

    May 25, 2014 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  5. Good Job Mr President

    From an American that has utter contempt for Obama and the Democrats- Id like to commend the president on his decision to make this trip, and show his respect and regards for the country that he raised his right hand and swore to protect and defend. I hope this is the dawn, of a new Obama- an awakened Obama- but im skeptical that it can ever happen. Nevertheless, I hope he tries.

    May 25, 2014 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  6. Maria Rivera-Carvalho

    President Obama cannot do anything right in the eyes of Republicans. And the American voters are getting pretty tired of their idiotic soap opera.

    May 25, 2014 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  7. meglon

    " of the fundamental principles we have in America is that the president is the commander in chief of the armed forces and attempts to undermine the commander in chief during time of war amounts to treason." – Pat Robertson

    ...for all those conservative ideologues out there who have been trying to undermine Obama every day... Pat says you're all traitors.

    May 25, 2014 07:11 pm at 7:11 pm |
  8. amarjeet

    US troops are required to remain in Afghanistan not for Al Qaeda to be off but to keep it safe from Pakistan expansionism policy. It also provides opportunity to keep a watch and vigilance on emerging situation in West China with same elements. It is essential for America to maintain effective forces in Afghanistan for regional safeguard and US interests in Asia.

    May 25, 2014 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  9. Luckjoe

    Political grandstanding from a commander in chief who does not salute the flag of the United States of America. Period.

    May 25, 2014 07:17 pm at 7:17 pm |
  10. Vijay

    Classy Obama.... He is a true patriot and loves troops...

    May 25, 2014 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  11. JC

    It kills me that Obama treats the war in Afghanistan as a mistake that he's fixing. Liberals often lump the afghan war in with the Iraqi war, but I don't understand why. What was our other option after 9/11? Kabul was the center of the storm after the attacks. If we did nothing that would have shown major weakness. There's no way to sit idly by after you've been attacked on home soil. There was no alternative. If there was i would love to hear it, but I doubt anything intelligent will come in response to this comment. And it's nice to see a liberal politician with their child serving. Whenever you hear about a politicians son or daughter deployed in the Middle East it's usually a conservative.

    May 25, 2014 07:18 pm at 7:18 pm |
  12. Chuck

    The only President I saw visit when I was in the Military was Carter
    it was very Underwelming

    May 25, 2014 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  13. LW

    I'm here in Afghanistan and I got to meet the president. He stayed and shook every soldiers hand that wanted to shake his. He also visited the hospital where we have wounded soldiers. I'm proud to say he came to spend time with us, before we closed out everything here. The media isn't hiding anything. For the month of March I can proudly say we didn't have any American Soldiers lose their life. I'm a proud soldier

    May 25, 2014 07:32 pm at 7:32 pm |
  14. Frank Garcia

    a completely not heartfelt visit to the troops to distract from the VA and other scandals! Obama is a FAKE only acts for political gain...and idiots fall for it.

    May 25, 2014 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  15. Ik Okafor

    Well Done Mr President! And to our troops.... much thanks from a grateful nation! Thanks for keeping us safe at home

    May 25, 2014 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  16. Uncle Sam

    transparency: if you cant see it, it must be transparent.

    May 25, 2014 07:54 pm at 7:54 pm |
  17. dap

    i believe not all of the women & men of military troops that president obama visited voted/like him, but the moral was definately lifted for the those of u gripping about president obama disregarding obligation to the va issue, just what is it u have done to help insure our va vets r being given the best in medical care in ur community?have u gone today to visit our brothers & sisters who have sacrificed themselves & family for YOU AND YOUR FAMILY?

    May 25, 2014 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  18. sixthromeo

    Wow! All the totally un-American comments made by haters in this area. You disgrace the lives of those who gave their lives that others may live in peace and in prosperity. Yet you come here to put your your useless vitriol. This is not a day of remembrance for the insane right.

    May 25, 2014 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  19. Guest

    does anybody really believe al Qaeda is on the run....

    May 25, 2014 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  20. j

    @ 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"

    Ever hear of the surge, moron, which started in December of 2009

    May 25, 2014 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  21. Luckjoe

    Mattthewjanner, Obama has heard of the oath of office but it means nothing to him. Period.

    May 25, 2014 08:13 pm at 8:13 pm |
  22. Phil Thomas

    Nothing like a racist with a subpar IQ calling the president an idiot or a lot go other hateful things. Get your lives in order and stop voting against your own interests

    May 25, 2014 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  23. Larry L


    "Obama does not understand the nature of an oath because he has never had to live by one".
    Joe – you found a way to turn this great gesture into something ugly. I'm a Soldier and appreciate the President's visit. I also admire the way he's listened to his Joint Staff, leveraged technology to save Service-Member's lives, used intelligence information to kill the heck out of terrorists, and not rushed America into useless wars. Go on back to Faux News and leave the tribute to Veterans to those who can put hate aside for one day.

    May 25, 2014 08:28 pm at 8:28 pm |
  24. Larry L

    "We've lose more soldiers in Obama's first 4 years, and counting, than in 7 under Bush."
    Bush started the war in Afghanistan but left without finishing the job. This allowed the Taliban to regroup, develop the ability to use IEDs and a much more lethal force. Your comment fails to account for reality.

    May 25, 2014 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  25. dave

    did he tell them how he was going to allow them die waiting on the VA while his voter base lived off welfare?

    May 25, 2014 08:41 pm at 8:41 pm |
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