Obama Thanks Troops in Afghanistan
By MacKenzie C. Babb
Washington - President Obama made an unscheduled trip to Afghanistan to meet with U.S. troops stationed there and to hold brief talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
White House officials said the president's December 3 visit to Bagram Airfield was mainly to thank military members stationed there during the holidays.
"At this time of year, Americans are giving thanks for all the blessings that we have. And as we begin this holiday season, there is no place that I'd rather be than be here with you," Obama said during a speech to about 4,000 troops at Bagram Airfield.
Before speaking to the troops, Obama awarded five Purple Hearts to wounded service-members during a visit to the base hospital. He also met with Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and Army General David Petraeus, the top commander in Afghanistan.
Obama later spoke with Karzai by phone. He was scheduled to travel to Kabul to meet with the Afghan leader in person, but the visit was cancelled because of bad weather.
Obama said America is "making important progress" in Afghanistan, and said efforts by the U.S. military and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force are succeeding to "break the Taliban's momentum."
Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes underscored that message.
"What we're focused on is making sure that our two governments are aligned behind the strategic objective, which, again, is breaking the Taliban's momentum, building up Afghan capacity, and undertaking a transition that both ensures that there's never a safe haven for terrorism in Afghanistan ... and that the Afghan people can control their own future," Rhodes told reporters in a briefing.
Still, Obama noted, "there are going to be difficult days ahead."
In November, Obama discussed the future of U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan with Karzai. The two joined world leaders at the NATO Summit in Lisbon in agreeing to transfer security control of Afghanistan's 34 provinces, beginning in stages in 2011.
The transition is set to begin in July 2011, with a goal of completion by the end of 2014. However, Obama has made clear that U.S. forces will remain to train, assist and support their Afghan partners for as long as they are needed to keep the country, region and international community safe.
"We will never let this country serve as a safe haven for terrorists who would attack the United States of America again," he said.