By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15, 2014 – While the combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, the U.S. commitment to the nation will continue, President Barack Obama told U.S. troops today during a visit to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.
“In just two weeks, the transition that we’re making in Afghanistan will be complete,” he said. “Afghans will take full responsibility for their security.”
“This month,” he said, “after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. This month America’s war will come to a responsible end.”
Still a Dangerous Place
However, Obama cautioned that Afghanistan is still a “very dangerous place.”
“But I want you, and every American who has served in Afghanistan, to be proud of what you’ve accomplished there,” he said, “because your generation — the 9/11 generation — has met every mission that’s been given to you.”
“You helped decimate the core al-Qaida leadership and deliver justice to Osama bin Laden,” Obama said. “He will not be attacking here anymore.”
The president listed a range of U.S. military accomplishments, including pushing back the Taliban, training Afghan forces to take the lead and making possible a historic election this year along with the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history.
“Despite all of their challenges,” Obama said, “Afghans are now looking to the future, and that’s because of you. That makes us safer; it gives them a chance for a better future.”
Obama said when he took office there were nearly 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, but by month’s end, there will be fewer than 15,000 remaining.
“We’ve now brought home about 90 percent of our troops,” he said. The time of deploying large ground forces with large military footprints to engage in overseas nation-building is coming to an end, Obama added.
And despite the military becoming leaner, Obama said, he will ensure it remains “the best-trained, the best-led, the best-equipped military in the history of the world, because the world will still be calling.”
Commitment to Afghanistan Endures
Obama said even as the combat mission ends, the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan will endure through a limited U.S. military presence there and the training and advising of Afghan forces.
“And we’ve got to conduct counterterrorism missions,” Obama said, “because there’s still remnants of al-Qaida there. After all the sacrifices you’ve made, we want to preserve the gains you’ve made.”
The president said in addition to a “stable and secure” Afghanistan, American leaders want to make sure that country is never again used to launch attacks against the U.S.
More broadly, Obama said there are still challenges to U.S. security around the globe and in times of crisis, people around the world — even America’s critics — look to one nation to lead and that is the United States.
“When the world calls on America,” he said, “we call on you, our men and women in uniform, because nobody can do what you can do.”
Obama said “nobody in history has been able to do what you’ve done.” He noted the U.S. military has led a global coalition against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Iraq and Syria.
“Because of you,” he said, “we have blunted their momentum, and we have put them on the defensive.”
“These terrorists are learning the same thing that the leaders of al-Qaida have learned the hard way. They may think that they can chalk up some quick victories, but our reach is long. We do not give up.”
“You threaten America, you will have no safe haven,” he said. “We will find you, and like petty tyrants and terrorists before you, the world is going to leave you behind and keep moving on without you, because we will get you. That’s thanks to you [service members].”
Life-saving Work in West Africa
Obama also noted the U.S. military has saved lives through its efforts in leading the fight against Ebola in West Africa.
“None of that would be possible without you,” he said. “That’s American leadership. That’s the difference you make.”
“Other countries are now willing to come in, because you laid the foundation,” Obama said.
“Ultimately,” he said, “we will have saved thousands of lives because of you. That’s the difference you’re making. There are people who are alive today because of what you guys are doing.”
Obama, “on behalf of more than 300 million Americans,” thanked all U.S. service members for their “extraordinary service” and “send me” attitude.
“What makes us the best is all of you,” he said. “It’s your character and your willingness to say, ‘send me’; your dedication to duty and your courage, and your readiness to defend our values and our ideals of freedom and liberty, not just for us, but for people all around the world.”
“You are the backbone of the greatest nation on earth and you will always be that,” Obama said.
“For that, America is eternally grateful,” he said, “and I am incredibly proud to serve as your commander-in-chief.”
(Follow Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone Marshall on Twitter:@MarshallDoDNews)