President Barack Obama made a surprise visit to Afghanistan Tuesday, where he addressed the American people on the one year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden by American Navy Seals.
“We have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war,” Obama said in the brief address from Bagram airbase. “Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The Iraq War is over. The number of our troops in harm’s way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to al Qaeda.”
Obama touted the death of Bin Laden and the capture or killing of more than 20 top al-Qaida targets as milestones signaling the beginning of the end of U.S. combat in Afghanistan, and said tens of thousands of troops will return to the U.S. through the summer. The U.S. combat mission is scheduled to end in 2014.
WATCH NBC NEWS COVERAGE OF THE PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS:
“One year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden,” Obama said, “The goal that I set – to defeat al-Qaida, and deny it a chance to rebuild – is within reach.”
“Already, nearly half the Afghan people live in places where Afghan Security Forces are moving into the lead,” he added. “This month, at a NATO Summit in Chicago, our coalition will set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country next year. International troops will continue to train, advise and assist the Afghans, and fight alongside them when needed. But we will shift into a support role as Afghans step forward.”
“As we do, our troops will be coming home. Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.”
Obama said he would not leave American troops in Afghanistan “one day longer” than is necessary for America’s national security, and he spoke to the war weariness of many Americans. Obama said the U.S. will not build permanent bases in Afghanistan, or patrol its streets and mountains. He praised U.S. troops, who he said “stood tall … when so many institutions fell short.”
And he made an appeal for unity at home.
“As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it is time to renew America,” Obama said. “An America where our children live free from fear, and have the skills to claim their dreams. A united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation.”
Earlier, Obama addressed troops at Bagram airbase after signing a strategic partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The president arrived at Bagram at 10:20 p.m. local time, and was transported by chopper to the presidential palace in Kabul.
The trip was subject to strict security measures that prevented journalists traveling with the president from reporting about the trip until the president arrived at the presidential palace.
The agreement signed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai pledges U.S. support for Afghanistan for a decade after 2014, when U.S. and NATO troops are scheduled to end their combat mission.
Strict security measures are in place, including a White-House-imposed embargo that prevented journalists in the pool from reporting on Obama’s travel until he arrived at the presidential palace at about 11:30 PM local Tuesday night.